FINESSE NanoBio (Fabrication and Imaging of Neon-Etched Structures and Surfaces for Engineering, Nanoscience and Biotechnology)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Engineering


The FINESSE NanoBio team is proposing a new UK capability in imaging, cross-sectioning and patterning materials that are traditionally very difficult to examine at the nano and sub-nanometre scale without seriously effecting their structure or behaviour. It is important that the UK is placed at the forefront of this research, enabling start-ups, SMEs and large companies to drive innovation and growth with stronger underpinning scientific understanding. To address this, the team is requesting funding for a customised Zeiss NanoFab tool that consists of:
1. An ultra-high precision imaging capability (sub 0.5 nm) of conductive and non-conductive samples
2. An ultra-high precision patterning and TEM sample preparation capability (2 nm) of the same range of samples
3. A cryogenic sample handling system to enable imaging of biological materials and biological or fluid interfaces with materials and structures.

The tool achieves this revolutionary performance by focusing a stream of helium ions onto the surface and measuring the subsequently released secondary electrons. Ions can also be used to remove material in their path for patterning or cross-sectioning materials. This system has three ion options, gallium for bulk removal, neon for additional polishing and cutting and helium for very careful polishing. This difference in behaviour is due to the lower mass of the ions.

Direct writing of metals in 10nm feature sizes is also feasible with this system, which will enable electrical contacts to be fabricated to advanced functional materials to test, for example, their conductivity or electrochemical behaviour when making sensors.

The requested support will have far-reaching impact through the projects and industrial partners of almost 50 research groups actively supporting this proposal in Cambridge, across 10 different Departments and 4 different Schools. This sphere of scientific influence is amplified by the strong support from 5 universities, 2 catapult organisations and 3 industrial network organisations, who represent an estimated 1500 companies.

This incredible response by academics and industrial researchers means the facility will also drive new engagement and collaborations between these partiers and will foster collaboration, through for example the planned symposium and engagement events.

The commissioning, access, outreach and management will be delivered by a small committee of experienced researchers and microscopy suite managers, with review and guidance from a larger steering group of EPSRC, industrial and academic partners to ensure fair access, an environment that fosters collaborations and postgraduate education.

Planned Impact

This project will have specific impact at (at least) four levels.

1. Stimulation of Academic Activity: As noted in the Academic Beneficiaries section, the project addresses a significant need in the UK scientific and engineering research landscape, to image, pattern and cross-section materials that are normally extremely challenging to handle and with this tool can be imaged at incredible levels of detail with minimal damage to the surfaces. The cross-discipline support and research highlights there are multiple routes for spin-off projects between industry and academic partners.

2. Economic Benefit through Industrial Engagement: This project will deliver a new research capability to the region, which is already a hub of innovation, start-ups and high-tech SMEs. This capability will be a key enabler when developing nanotechnology and biotechnology products and so the team has reached out to Cambridge Network, the Cambridge Science Park, the Wellcome Genome Campus and the Norwich Science Park to ensure targeted communication about the machine's capability and routes of access within the University.

3. Wider Societal Benefits: The project will have wider societal benefits, such as firstly embedding this cutting-edge research tool into postgraduate education in collaboration with the EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training in Sensors, Ultra-Precision Engineering, Graphene and Nanoscience. This is strengthened by the support from the vendor, in sponsoring PhD students over the coming 3.5 years in research linked to the proposed machine. Secondly, this equipment will enable immersive and captivating outreach activities by coupling with the Department of Engineering's activities in virtual mapping of labs for interactive demonstrations to inform about science and engineering. Finally, there is a real benefit to the broader society in developing the next generation in diagnostics, drug delivery and tissue engineering applications, which are the focus of many of the researchers supporting this proposal.

4. Wider Benefits to Industry and Practice: The team will ensure the insights generated through this equipment grant flow to the wider academic and industrial communities to foster collaborations that will lead to further breakthroughs. Through strong links with the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and the Centre for Process Innovation, the research tool will eventually become a standard facility that is used to help identify the underpinning science to enable scale-up to new products and devices.

More broadly, we expect the network of organisations involved in our engagement activities to grow as we develop and disseminate key research and application insights. Already several industrial collaborators have highlighted how crucial the new capability will be to the future of their firm's competitiveness. This diversity of disciplines working with this facility creates a unique opportunity to ensure that the insights delivered are disseminated widely across an intellectually diverse community outside the host University or Cambridge region.


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Description This grant is funding the purchase and installation of a modified Zeiss NanoFab, a unique R&D capability to pattern by additive and subtractive techniques at a high resolution and image a broader range of materials at higher resolutions than was previously possible. This will be a world-leading capability tackling a wide breadth of research challenges across the UK science and engineering landscape. The grant also facilitates the collaborations across university and industry to ensure a broad benefit to this new research capability.

This grant is currently active and is entirely funding the new equipment noted above. To-date the equipment purchasing process has been completed, the bulk of the equipment has been manufactured, tested in the manufacturing facility, transported to the UK and installed. The installation has been progressing over 5 months with initial imaging and patterning training taking place in February 2019 as these elements of the equipment came online. This training was for the key technicians and researchers responsible for delivering the grant and enabled a better understanding to start to develop user protocols and access protocols . The final equipment sign-off process and transfer of full ownership to the University has not yet been carried out and is expected to occur in two sessions, firstly in April 2019 and secondly in August 2019. The element of this grant that is a global first, the cryogenic capability, will be key for research into biological materials, such as those found in medical implants, drug delivery, tissue engineering and cancer research. This additional large add-on has been designed and final discussions are being held between Zeiss and Cambridge prior to fabrication and testing of this new unit.

This grant is ongoing, and as an equipment-focused grant the Impact-related communications and activities, including industrial, academic and outreach activities, will take place as soon as the NanoFab is signed off, with ownership fully transferred to the University. The team looks forward to updating on these activities as the grant progresses.
Exploitation Route As the grant is ongoing, and is at a comparatively early stage with the equipment not yet fully installed, the current developments are not at a stage for further use. The team looks forward to providing details of the impact for others as the grant progresses.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description CAMatNet workshop - Imaging structure and properties of materials across length scales 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The event brought together scientists in Cambridge who are imaging the structure and properties of materials across different length scales using many forms of radiation and microscopies. The central themes of the meeting was to see how complementary and novel techniques can reveal previously hidden structure and functionality, how machine learning and compressed sensing methods are transforming the way imaging data is analysed and how new instrumentation is enabling new materials and new devices to be studied for the first time. Speakers were from across Cambridge departments with a mix of established and early-career researchers. The meeting was an opportunity to make new contacts, re-kindle existing ones and to network with others in the field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description University of Cambridge Science Festival Microscopy Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I ran a microscopy workshop with members of my research group and supported by Carl Zeiss to communicate both the importance of microscopy and metrology in Engineering and also to give members of the public (mostly primary and secondary school level students) experience of using microscopes to study a wide range of samples, from biological to food and electronic devices. This is an important step to then introduce concepts such as the advanced microscopy covered by the research grant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Workshop: Advances in Microscopy for Materials Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshop promoted learning about how advances in microscopy are helping to build the future of materials science.

Discussions included exploring new dimensions with 2D, 3D, and 4D microscopy techniques, available around the University of Cambridge. Light, X-ray, electron, and ion microscopes were presented and the appropriate scales of resolution presented as well as correlations between modalities, length scales, and instruments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018