An X-ray Micro-Computed Tomography Facility with in-situ/in operando testing.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Materials Science and Engineering


There is a fundamental shift in materials technology towards manufacturing materials products which are tailor-made to specific dimensional requirements and function, and are inhomogeneous, i.e. having structure and chemistry which vary in 3D in a complex manner. It has become essential, therefore, to be able to employ characterisation methodologies that can effectively evaluate new materials/products in 3-dimensions, and to apply environments to determine how their structure, and therefore function, evolve with conditions.

X-ray computed tomography (MicroCT) is a powerful tool for non-destructively imaging the interior 3-dimensional microstructure of objects. Being well established in the medical field, MicroCT is playing an increasingly pivotal role in materials science and engineering research, and is now a core-technology on the EPSRC roadmap.

Very recent technological advances now make it possible for the first time to combine several crucial features of this technology in one instrument: a practically useful sample size (field of view), resolution of < 0.5 micrometre, and in-situ testing of samples while concurrently imaging the 3D microstructure.

The Zeiss Xradia 620 Versa is a state-of-the-art X-ray Microscope with innovative optics, optimised for 3D non-destructive imaging of heterogeneous composite materials. It is combined with various specialist specimen stages to allow mechanical, electrical, and fluid-based testing of materials in 3D.

Micro-scale computed tomography at the proposed advanced level will give researchers a massively improved insight into materials structures, enabling scientists and engineers to better characterise a diverse range of materials, such as aircraft components, new battery materials, human bone and tissue, new biomedical materials implants and other complex materials. This will allow researchers to develop materials that perform better than existing alternatives, making them lighter, less expensive, more robust and more sustainable.

Planned Impact

The new facility will impact numerous scientific and technical areas. Thematic Impact activities will be led by academics most active in the research themes described below:

Energy & Environmental Systems: there will be a strong focus on developing new materials for batteries and capacitors, and investigating materials for use in nuclear reactors or for nuclear waste disposal. We will use existing links with the Faraday Institute, National Nuclear Laboratory and Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. We will also invite a wide range or researchers to make use of the MicroCT with the assistance of the Energy 2050, one of the UK's largest energy research institutes in Europe.

Advanced 3D Manufacturing: The EPSRC MAPP Future Manufacturing Hub (MAPP: Manufacture using Advanced Powder Processes) works with industry and HVM Catapult partners to overcome some of the common challenges around advanced powder processes and accelerate their deployment in aerospace, energy and automotive sectors. MAPP offers an excellent opportunity to engage with a highly active and strategically important user base using several mechanisms including a lecture series, international conference and feasibility studies, and access to research staff from over 35 companies and 20 universities.

Structural Integrity, Composites & Tribology: we aim to develop a better understanding of materials under dynamic conditions. We will work with the The Leonardo Centre for Tribology, the CDT in Integrated Tribology and the EPSRC Programme Grant - Friction: The Tribology Enigma. These activities increase our exposure to potential users. The AMRC Composite Centre is a state-of-the-art facility for advanced composite manufacturing research and development, based in a dedicated extension to the AMRC Factory of the Future and has many company contacts who currently use a lower resolution MicroCT and will benefit from the superior capability of our proposed microscope.

Biological Tissues & Biomaterials: We aim to generate impact that helps alleviate the effects of disease or ageing. UoS hosts the Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine, Europe's largest research institute dedicated entirely to the development, validation, and use of in silico medicine technologies. Our Department of Oncology & Metabolism includes a group on bone research, which brings together scientists and clinicians that specialise in benign bone disease and is home to the world class Mellanby Bone Research Centre. Both these centres run regular meetings and workshops that we will participate in and engage with the medical research community.

Engaging with the wider academic and industrial community: we will do so by running four workshops (launch plus end of years 1, 2 and 3) and hosting 12 open days per year, taking place at regular pre-advertised intervals and allowing interested parties to drop by and discuss the facility with technical staff. We will present our findings at relevant industry- focused events such as Materials Research Exchange 2020, and the MicroCT listed on, an online portal that is free to list on and allows end-users to search for scientific and technical equipment.

Engaging with the general public: will be done via many regularly scheduled events, where we aim to run at least one activity per year accessible by the general public, such as Cafe Scientifique, Sheffield Festival of the Mind and the Cheltenham Science Festival.

Wealth creation, commercialisation and exploitation: We will utilise available schemes to progress our work to higher Technology Readiness Levels via for example, Innovate UK CR&D calls or KTPs. We will work with a team at UoS which supports the commercialisation of the University's IP in order to identity and exploit any commercial opportunities.


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