SpectroMicroscopy and Spin at the Single Chemical Bond Limit

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Physics & Astronomy


A great deal of 21st century science is driven by our ability to see, move, and probe individual atoms and molecules. Indeed, the state of the art is no longer observing single atoms; instead, we are now at the point where single chemical bonds can be "seen" (and manipulated on a bond-by-bond basis in some systems).

The technique that has enabled this remarkable ability to explore the sub-microscopic world of atoms, molecules and quantum particles is the scanning probe microscope (SPM). An SPM is a microscope like no other; no lenses, no mirrors, or no optics of any type are used to generate an image. Instead, a sharp probe (nowadays often terminated in a single molecule) is moved within a few atomic diameters of a surface, rastered back and forth, and the interaction between the probe used to generate an image. That interaction can span a range of physical forces and phenomena, and thus a scanning probe microscope can be sensitive to a plethora of different sample properties.

This project focuses on securing state-of-the-art scanning probe facilities for the UK's nanoscience community. If we do not continually strive to achieve ever more precise and challenging measurements, science will stagnate. The drive to push the limits and capabilities of scientific techniques underpins very many advances in understanding and technology.

We will install and commission a high magnetic field scanning probe microscope which combines measurements of atomic structure, chemical forces, electronic properties, and magnetic behaviour in a single instrument. This will be the first instrument of its type in the UK and it will enable a wide range of exciting experiments probing a broad set of materials exhibiting novel phenomena. As another first, we will establish an innovative public engagement programme by which members of the public will be able to gain access to control of certain features of the instrument to carry out their own atomic imaging and manipulation experiments.

Planned Impact

Although the research supported by the instrument for which we request funding lies very much at the fundamental, curiosity-driven end of the spectrum, a number of the applicants have close links with industry and have a successful history of exploiting intellectual property arising from their research. Gallagher and Edmonds, in particular, have a strong track record of collaboration with the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory (HCL) that has produced several joint patents in recent years (US patent (US7939870); US patent (US7893426); Japanese and European patents pending). Indeed, Gallagher has been employed by HCL as consultants and external advisors on spintronics for the last 8 years. Rushforth
has experience of protecting and developing IP through a recent EPSRC Impact Acceleration project.

For all research involving the high magnetic field scanning probe instrument, IP generated jointly will be protected jointly, while IP generated by Nottingham will be protected by Nottingham, who will be free to exploit the IP through appropriate avenues. The School of Physics and Astronomy has an embedded Business Development Executive (BDE), Dr. Peter Milligan, who advises on the drafting of collaboration agreements. Working with the Technology Transfer Office, he also advises on the identification, protection and routes for exploitation of IP.

The School of Physics and Astronomy at Nottingham has been involved with novel public engagement strategies for almost a decade, particularly in collaboration with the video-maker Brady Haran. Along with Haran and Prof. Mike Merrifield (current head of the School of Physics & Astronomy), the PI was awarded last year's Kelvin Medal for "innovative and effective promotion of the public understanding of physics through the Sixty Symbols video project". We propose to build on, and substantially extend this type of online interaction so as to open a route to (highly controlled!) access to the instrument to enable remote imaging, manipulation and spectroscopy of atoms for schools, colleges, and, more broadly, amateur scientists with a keen interest in nanoscience. We will collaborate with Haran on filming a series of videos for the popular Sixty Symbols channel which will publicise this aspect of the instrument to the ~ 700,000-strong subscriber base.


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