Atomic Layer Deposition for Lancaster Quantum Technology Centre Cleanroom

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Physics


The award will be used for the acquisition of a piece of advanced materials fabrication equipment for a process called atomic layer deposition (ALD). As the name implies, ALD is capable of depositing materials one atomic layer at a time. ALD films are grown by exposing a sample surface to organic gaseous chemicals (called precursors), that contain the required elements for the material of choice, and react with the surface such that just one layer of atoms is deposited. A very common example is the insulating layer aluminium oxide. Organic molecules with single aluminium atoms (trimethylaluminum) are introduced into a chamber that is under vacuum. After waiting for it to react with the surface, excess gas is removed, and then the aluminium is oxidised, e.g. with water vapour. Repeating this cycle multiple times allows the build-up of layers of very high-quality material of precise thickness. Furthermore, since the process is controlled by the chemical reaction between the precursor gas and the sample surface, rather than a line-of-sight method where the materials are somehow aimed at the sample (as is the case with some other deposition methods), the entire surface is coated uniformly irrespective of its topology. ALD is very widely used in research and commercial production, especially in the microelectronics industry. For example, it is used to make the capacitors that store the charge in DRAM and the dielectric layers in the transistors that make up computer processors. In Lancaster ALD will be used to complement and enhance existing equipment in the Lancaster Quantum Technology cleanroom, for a wide range of research programmes in condensed matter and materials physics, materials chemistry and engineering. The equipment will benefit at least 18 members of academic staff from the Departments of Chemistry, Engineering and Physics, their research assistants and research students. It will also be available to external users from other universities and from industry.

Planned Impact

ACADEMIC AND SCIENTIFIC IMPACT: The purchase of an ALD will significantly complement and enhance the very substantial existing equipment and infrastructure available to the EPSRC community at Lancaster, and beyond. The bid is actively supported by 18 academic staff and research fellows, representing a wide range of research interests that are in the remit of EPSRC. In many cases, the equipment will enable research that is not possible without it, significantly increase the quality of materials and devices and/or increase research efficiency. In turn, this will lead to high quality outputs in international peer-reviewed journals, presentations at national and international conferences, collaborations with leading research groups nationally and internationally, and research funding.

IMPACT ON TRAINING, DEVELOPMENT AND SKILLS: More than half of the supporters of the bid are early career researchers. Access to ALD will give them the opportunity to increase the quality and/or scope of their research portfolio and track-record, allowing them to develop and mature as future research leaders, continue to establish and enhance their reputations, thereby improving their career prospects. The supporters of the bid are responsible for more than 30 PhD students and research assistants, many of whom will be using the ALD, and will be fully trained, increasing their skillset. Acquisition of ALD will increase their research opportunities, and will also benefit researchers who are not are using the ALD themselves, for example when a material or device that is produced using ALD by one researcher is used by others in the same team. Indeed, in many cases this will include 4th year integrated Masters students doing their project.

ECONOMIC AND COMMERCIAL IMPACT: As a materials and device technology ALD will have very substantial potential for economic and commercial impact. Indeed, as can be seen from the case for support the research is relevant for a wide range of sectors. Supporters of the bid are presently working with a number of industrial (and other) partners, including Amethyst, Compound Semiconductor Technologies, Gas Sensing Solutions, EM Analytical, Huawei, IMEC, IQE, Jaguar Land Rover, Kratos, Loughborough Surface Analysis, Leonardo, NPL and Oxford Instruments, as well as extensively with spinouts Quantum Base and Lancaster Material Analysis, providing very substantial industrial collaboration and commercialisation opportunities. The Faculty of Science and Technology has a dedicated Partnerships and Business Engagement team, four of whom are allocated to physical sciences and engineering that will provide support for industrial collaborations, and will work closely with the University's intellectual property and commercialisation team. The two Co-I's on the project will also provide further guidance and support; both have awarded patents, are co-founders of spinouts, and have worked extensively with national and international industrial partners. Hayne is also Impact Champion and Departmental Industry Coordinator for Physics.

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT AND OUTREACH: There will be numerous opportunities for showcasing research facilitated by ALD, on campus, in Lancaster, regionally and nationally. Locally/regionally these include physics masterclasses for Year 12 and 13 students, open days (demos), schools talks, faculty public lecture series, Lancaster University Community Day, campus in the city, Light-up Lancaster and UlverSTEM. National opportunities include the RSSE (Young is on the RSSE committee) and New Scientist Live. Exceptional news and breakthroughs will be communicated via news media in collaboration with the University Press Office, and through social media via University, Press Office, Faculty and Departmental accounts.


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