A LEAP 5000 XS for the UK National Atom Probe Facility

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Materials

Abstract

This proposal is to install a state-of-the-art Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP) 5000 XS at the University of Oxford. Atom probe tomography (APT) is a type of microscopy that provides unique insight into 3D atomic distributions within materials at a scale that even the most advanced electron microscopes cannot routinely achieve. Hence APT is now an indispensable materials characterisation tool used in major international materials laboratories around the world.

The APT technique was pioneered in the UK, and for the past 30 years the Oxford Atom Probe Laboratory, a unique national facility, has maintained an international reputation for highly innovative APT research. The need for atomic-scale microstructural information is increasingly important for the design and development of the next generation of higher performance materials and devices. Hence, the unique insights provided by APT have become essential to advance understanding within a steadily increasing number of research programmes around the UK.

The two atom probe instruments installed at Oxford currently serve the research needs of the entirety of UK academia and industry. However, the older of these instruments is now no longer technologically sustainable and must be decommissioned. Hence, a new atom probe is urgently required to meet the current, and increasing, access demands for APT and to keep the UK competitive across a variety of key materials research topics. The main outcome of this proposal will be continuing to increase visibility of and access to APT for researchers around the UK.

The LEAP 5000 XS will allow us to address key analytical problems and generate greater impact in projects of strategic importance in the research groups of academic staff at Oxford and our Co-Is at universities, as well as working on projects with a wide range of industrial partners. The specific themes we will work on will use the LEAP 5000 XS to contribute to the development of novel materials across a wide range of applications, including efficient green energy materials, aerospace and automotive alloys, and even bio-implants, and to assist UK industry to maintain competitiveness and grow market share.

Planned Impact

The LEAP 5000 XS will underpin research into real world problems in design and manufacture of new materials and devices across a wide range of applications, under a variety of EPSRC themes, such as Physical Sciences, Manufacturing the Future, Healthcare Technologies, Engineering and Energy. This highlights a key reason for the recent growth in influence and impact of APT, which is a rapid broadening in the range of research topics to which it is being applied. This is evident in the emergence of cross-disciplinary applications, such as the enthusiastic uptake of the technique by the international Geological Sciences community and emerging interest demonstrated by the Biological/Medical Sciences. APT has potential to provide completely new perspectives on critical science in these fields.

A central feature of our vision for the new instrument is that it will deliver important new results and understanding to university partners and their industrial collaborators. This is not an activity that will have to be built up from scratch, as the investigators already hold a substantial portfolio of projects funded by UK industry, but the range, depth and significance of the output on problems that are both scientifically extremely challenging and of direct and immediate commercial relevance will be substantially increased by the requisite availability of this genuinely state-of-the-art machine. With academic partners, we will continue to generate impact by output of first class papers in the scientific literature.

Access to the new LEAP 5000 XS will also benefit researchers at earlier stages of their academic careers, ensuring adequate access for them to explore ambitious lines of new APT-based research. An emphasis will be placed on training. Ongoing users of the new instrument will be trained to an expert level in all aspects of the technique so as to understand the strengths and limitations when interpreting results from the perspective of their own materials investigation. Hence it will play a role in training and development for many in the next generation of students and ECRs who will take up roles in UK academia and industry leading scientific research in a diverse range of fields. This is critically important in fields such as nuclear research where there is an emphasis on re-establishing technical competency and international leadership.

More than 10 companies are actively involved in projects specifically outlined in this proposal. As the letters of support demonstrate, these collaborators share the ambition to use the LEAP 5000 XS to contribute to the development of next-generation materials across a wide range of engineering themes. Partnerships such as the Rolls Royce and Constellium University Technology Centres represent significant investment by EPSRC and industry to support multi-institutional collaborative research with the potential for immediate real-world impact to manufacturing in the UK and contribute to specific EPSRC priority areas such as: Lightweight Systems, Materials Characterisation and Structural Integrity and Materials Behaviour.

Examples of projects that we plan to undertake with these industrial partners are in the power generation, semiconductor materials, catalysis, aerospace and automotive sectors. UK industry has a leading position in many of these areas and must maintain competitiveness and grow market share. Some of these sectors are extremely large, for example, silicon PV alone is a $100bn global industry. Furthermore, we are continually in discussion with new partners who have problems that will benefit from the access to unique insights offered by the new instrument. One main impact of this project is to ensure that academia and industry has access to competitive facilities within the UK. Without this, there is real risk that industrial partners could move entire projects, not just the APT aspects, to international competitors who are actively installing similar facilities.

Publications

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