EPSRC Capital Award for Core Equipment - University of Warwick

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Vice Chancellors Office


Our ability to rapidly and routinely obtain information about the composition, structure, morphology and function of molecules, materials and devices produced by man or by nature is central to many advances and breakthroughs in the Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS). This proposal will provide new multi-user equipment within our Spectroscopy and Microscopy Research Technology Platforms (RTPs), to ensure that researchers at Warwick (UW) have access to a state-of-the-art infrastructure for EPS. UW's long-term excellence in EPS is firmly rooted in strategic investment in equipment, infrastructure, people and training. The equipment requested includes:

1. An infrared (IR) microscope capable high spectral/spatial resolution coupled to a spectrometer suitable for time-resolved spectroscopy (TRS). IR spectroscopy exploits the fact that molecules and materials absorb frequencies that are characteristic of their atomic composition, structure and bonding. Subject to selection rules, these absorptions occur when the frequency of the absorbed radiation matches the vibrational frequency. IR microscopy provides the capability for chemical and structural mapping of a wide range of materials and systems at a length scale characteristic of the wavelength of the light used (e.g. 3-20 micro-m). Many materials are heterogeneous and measurements at a single point are not sufficient to understand the system. TRS enables the studies of changes in structure and bonding, and provides valuable information on process as diverse as battery degradation, structural changes in proteins and charge trapping in electronic materials.

2. Ion beam milling machine. Researchers are pushing the boundaries of elemental analysis and high resolution imaging with transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and for these studies they require ultra-low damage specimens less than ~20 nm in thickness. Focused ion beam (FIB) milling and argon (Ar) ion beam milling are used for preparation of electron transparent specimens for a diverse class of materials, including semiconductors, metals and ceramics. FIB is an essential tool for TEM sample preparation (Warwick has recently invested £650k in a new system) but causes surface and near surface damage that can limit the TEM analysis. Ar ion beam milling can be used to clean or polish surfaces produced by FIB. The system requested will provide significantly improved capabilities, specifically for low-energy operation to produce damage-free, clean specimens only a few nm in thickness for high resolution TEM studies and furthermore the small beam sizes will allow final cleaning of specimens only a few micrometres in size prepared by FIB microscopes.

The proposed equipment will be used to facilitate and strengthen a wide range of EPS research at UW, that falls within EPSRC's strategic remit and aligns to the UW research strategy. The new equipment will underpin the research of >50 academic groups from Chemistry, Physics, Engineering and WMG, working in diverse fields, including: catalysis, energy materials, manufacturing, medical imaging, nanoparticles, nanocomposites, polymer materials, power electronics, semiconductors, and structural engineering. This investment will also be fundamental to facilitating the training of many M-Level undergraduates, MSc and PhD students, and early career researchers. Our RTPs have well established programmes of user training and support, and these are also offered to external academics and industry partners. UW is committed to ensuring that the equipment requested is effectively managed and maintained, and that usage is maximised. Access will be advertised internally and externally through Warwick Scientific Services.

Planned Impact

This proposal will provide equipment that underpins a diverse portfolio of research in the broad field of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS). Impact will be immediate but sustained over the long term, and will take place in the wider context of the research activity at UW; leading to benefits for a wide range of non-academic groups, including industry, the public sector, schools and the public. UW's on-going commitment to developing its provision and management of equipment through its "Research Technology Platforms" (RTPs) will ensure the items of equipment have an average lifetime of 10 years. Business plans are in place to ensure that equipment is maintained and where appropriate regularly upgraded, so benefits continue into the future. A wide range of individuals and projects will benefit from these new facilities and their impact will be gauged through well-established methods.

INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIPS: Both items of equipment will be used in collaborative projects with industry. New capabilities, increased efficiency and enhanced capacity enabled will lead to accelerated delivery of results. Warwick Scientific Services will facilitate businesses in commissioning contract research. The proposed equipment will enhance our attractiveness to potential partners and we anticipate new commercial collaborations as a result. Key industrial sectors to benefit will include aerospace, chemicals, materials, electronics, energy, manufacturing, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and transport. We will continue to run targeted training courses for interested industrialists.

ENHANCED SKILLS & TRAINING: This proposal will have a significant impact on current/future early stage researchers at UW who will take their additional expertise into their future careers. The new investments will facilitate the "hands-on" training of the next generation of EPS scientists, including M-level, MSc & PhD students, as well as post-graduate researchers, on state-of-the-art equipment; combining this with complementary training in experimental design and data analysis will ultimately strengthen researchers' employment prospects, especially those moving into industry careers.

ENHANCED RESEARCH CAPABILITY: The most immediate impact will be on the research capability and the research programmes being undertaken. The new capabilities provided by this equipment will lead to the enhanced generation of results and hence accelerated publication rates and other forms of dissemination and exploitation in areas of strategic importance for the University and EPSRC, and of national/international importance. The research portfolio support links closely with several of the goals of the governments Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to raise productivity and earning power in the UK. The equipment proposed will impact on the challenges associated with commercialising quantum technologies, Faraday battery challenge, Leading-edge healthcare, Manufacturing and future materials and Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging. Furthermore, much of the research enabled directly impacts on meeting goals highlighted as priorities of the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund.

OUTREACH PLANS: The equipment will be used in laboratory/department tours, student placements and work experience. All departments involved have a programme of work experience that typically takes place over the summer. The equipment will be used in University outreach activities to the benefit of school children locally. UW outreach officers will encourage more students to consider careers within the EPS, and will support local schools in their effective teaching of science and engineering. In terms of wider benefits to the public, this will be realised through accelerated outputs from researchers using the equipment, and impact in areas such as improved healthcare technologies, pharmaceuticals, energy storage and new materials.


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