Measurement Suite for the Accelerated Design of Advanced, Quantum and Functional Materials

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


The modern technological world is underpinned by an incredible array of advanced materials, many of which took many years from their discovery to their eventual application. The first germanium transistor was built in 1947 but the use of silicon -based transistors did not become widespread until the 1960s and the first microprocessors did not appear until the later 1970s, paving the way to the explosion of personal computing, tablets and smart phones that proliferate today. Similar long timelines can be drawn for the liquid crystals that fill our TV screens or the magnetic hard drives that until recently were ubiquitous in every computer. Only recently has flash memory replaced magnetic disks in portable devices, which make use of a purely `quantum mechanical 'property called tunnelling whereby electrons can pass through barriers that in our everyday large scale `classical' world would not be possible. Silicon, which from the viewpoint of quantum mechanics is just about the simplest type of electronic material imaginable, dominates our current world. In silicon the electrons more or less ignore the presence of their fellow electrons, yet there are much more complex and interesting materials involving the collective motion of `correlated' electrons that have the potential to yield much more powerful technologies. In parallel the development of materials for energy creation and storage also have a profound influence on our lives. The appearance of the Sony Walkman personal cassette player in Japan in 1979 was simply because the density of energy stored in a small portable battery made it feasible. Today however, the global crisis in climate change and the need for cleaner and renewable energy sources gives the development of new materials for energy a much more serious and urgent priority.

This proposal concerns itself with development of just the types of materials discussed above, materials that in future could form the heart of powerful technologies of wide benefit to society, but currently in the first stages of creation and development. We are concerned among other things with: energy related materials for batteries, fuel cells, clean catalysis (including carbon neutral hydrogen production); the complex electronic properties of strongly correlated electronic materials, novel quantum and topological materials; new magnetic materials and ferroelectric materials for advanced data storage and manipulation.

In developing advanced functional materials it is important to know not only their composition, crystalline structure and morphology, but also to understand how small changes in all of these relate to the physical properties that make them both interesting and useful in applications. Material creation can take many forms, from traditional solid state chemical synthesis to thin film deposition techniques where we deposit one layer of atoms at a time and can even create materials not possible in bulk crystalline form. Whatever the route, it is essential to know as quickly as possible after, or even during, synthesis if the properties of this material are the ones that are required (or are interesting in some additional unexpected way). Obtaining this rapid feedback between growth and measurement is essential if one is to progress rapidly in the development of new materials. The focus of this application is to provide the infrastructure that can rigorously examine a wide range of relevant physical properties quickly and in way that can be undertaken by a wide range of people with a variety of expertise. Modern materials research is a truly interdisciplinary pursuit and involves physicists, chemists and materials scientists and engineers all of whom have very different specialist knowledge but who need to easily obtain information on the materials on which they work. Our equipment will allow a range of valuable properties to be measured efficiently, paving the way to future technological applications.

Planned Impact

The ultimate potential beneficiaries of the wide range of advanced materials research that will benefit from this project are broad with good long-term potential for societal benefit from technological applications. The equipment will underpin a materials research programme that is rich in materials necessary for the modern world and relevant to the global economy, including materials for future low-consumption electronics and information storage, energy generation and storage, and materials for a cleaner environment. It is hard to predict specific impact but we will work with our dedicated Business Development Managers and the Research and Enterprise Services to ensure any relevant IP is patent-protected where appropriate and explore licensing opportunities. We have a good track record in this area e.g. 78% of pending and granted patents from the School of Physics and Astronomy are being licensed out. End users of this research could thus be industrial companies as well as academic beneficiaries. The research supported impacts on issues of global importance such as climate change management, with potential impact that goes beyond the purely economic.

In providing equipment that will be used directly by a large number of researchers, particularly early career researchers, we will provide a valuable training opportunity for the development of skills and experience relevant to a knowledge based economy. Many of these young researchers will later move into industry so there will be long-term economic impact both in terms of the specific skills and the specialist knowledge in relevant areas that they take with them. Some will also return to final destinations beyond the UK, with the potential for impact through International Development. Typically we also allow undergraduate students to undertake cutting-edge research projects in their final year making use of research level equipment. There is thus the opportunity to inspire undergraduates to move into advanced materials research in academe or industry.

The programme will give particular in-depth training to the PDRA employed on the grant and the technician allocated to the project. They will gain detailed knowledge not only of industry standard equipment and techniques, but also acquire much specific experience and knowledge across a range of techniques. In addition they will be exposed to a wide range of science, gaining overall a good range of experience to aid career progression and future employability.

The equipment will provide a useful facility that can have beneficiaries beyond academic users. Our aim is to encourage pro-actively industrial users of the new equipment, which we will advertise through our connection to industrial users of our existing facilities e.g. the electron microscope facility, Industrial Advisory Boards, current industrial collaborators, Business Development Managers, connections to external Hubs, Centres and Facilities etc. We have previously had good interactions with local SMEs as well as multinational research laboratories involving contract and collaborative use of magnetic measurement techniques and we envisage greatly increased scope for this with the new suite of equipment. We have good connections to the St Andrew spin-out company Razorbill and would also envisage potential interactions with manufactures of scientific instrumentation to exploit some of the technical innovations we will make under the proposal.
Description Through this proposal we have begun to establish a suite of equipment that both enhances and unifies the capabilities of a diverse range of world-leading facilities, enabling cutting-edge interdisciplinary development of advanced functional materials for applications. We are thus progressing with our vision to create a highly interactive and collaborative research environment and community for advanced materials research.

We have now installed a 14 T Physical Properties Measurement System (PPMS) (installed August 2021) and a 9T Magnetic Properties Measurement System (MPMS) (installed November 2021). Following a period of system testing and evaluation these are now both fully operational. These have already begun to provide essential support for the truly interdisciplinary materials research effort at St Andrews, adding key functionality and providing transformative improvement in research capability e.g. the use of high fields and angular rotation has immediately led to stepwise improvements with publications submitted or in preparation. Some delays of around 6 months have been experienced due to the impact of COVID 19 on the supply chain, but nonetheless good progress has been made.

The third leg of the proposal, designing and constructing a bespoke low-temperature local probe system (Nanoprobe) to measure electric, magnetic and topographic information operating under UHV conditions and physically linked to our Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) and Angle-Resolved Photoemission Spectroscopy (ARPES) chambers has made significant progress. A complete reconfiguration of our UHV infrastructure has been undertaken including a new additional fully refurbished laboratory wing to house and integrate the Nanoprobe. The detailed design of the UHV and scanning probe assembly has been undertaken altough progress has been slowed in some areas including difficulty in sourcing suitable bespoke cryogenic equipment as well as the impact of COVID 19 on staffing and supply issues in general. We are currently resolving these issues.

The new equipment suite has already been used to support a number of interdisciplinary projects spanning physics and chemistry at St Andrews for users that benefit from our STM, ARPES, MBE, TEM/SEM capability, by allowing access to essential supporting and enhancing characterisation as well as linking to the use of external facilities including synchrotron and neutron sources.

We have begun to establish access links with users external to St Andrews, particularly regional partners across Scotland but also across England and Northern Ireland and together with our international Advisory Board have begun to develop formal frameworks for the access and sustainability of the facilities. A key objective of the proposal is to provide a welcoming environment where external users from around the UK (both academic and industrial) are encouraged to make use of our infrastructure to assist their research and progressing this will be form a key aim for the next stage of the project.
Exploitation Route We aim to develop an advanced characterisation facility that can be accessed by internal and external users to enhance their research capabilty.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Transport