Cutting the Edge - a Plasma Focused Ion Beam (PFIB) facility for supporting UK research in novel 3D materials research and device fabrication

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Physics


The University of Bristol is requesting funds for a plasma focused ion beam (PFIB) instrument to be installed within its Interface Analysis Centre (IAC) Facility. This state-of-the-art instrument will enable exciting new scientific research opportunities for 3D cross-sectioning of material microstructure for nuclear, aerospace, geological and biological materials, and provide a fast throughput instrument for prototyping of novel quantum, superconducting and semiconducting devices. In addition, the instrument will join the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF) National Ion Beam Facility for Active Materials shared between UoB and the UKAEA Materials Research Facility (MRF) at Culham.

A state-of-the-art PFIB will be purchased suitable for materials analysis for nuclear energy research, 3D tomography and high-throughput specimen preparation. The system will comprise a PFIB instrument with a field emission gun scanning electron microscope. Peripheral attachments will include an energy dispersive X-ray detector for chemical analysis, electron backscatter diffraction for crystallography work, scanning transmission microscopy capability for high-resolution work and a nanomanipulator for in-situ materials processing. Importantly there is the opportunity to obtain a multi-ion PFIB with a plasma ion source that will allow the use of multiple gas ions such as xenon, argon, nitrogen and oxygen that will enable a range of materials to be characterised rapidly in three dimensions, while allowing low-damage processing for high-resolution microscopy.

Analysis of air-sensitive materials is complicated by having to transfer the sample to another instrument, and this proposal would integrate a vacuum cryo transfer module (VCTM) into the facility, as well as adding a cryogenic stage to the PFIB with the ability to load samples from the VCTM. This would allow samples to be transferred between the FIBs and the APT instruments at Oxford under vacuum and/or cryogenic conditions, unlocking a huge new array of cutting-edge experiments on biological specimens for the Wolfson Bioimaging Facility, as well as key materials challenges relevant to the nuclear community, such as corrosion of actinides and cladding, tritium storage and hydrogen embrittlement.

The project will also fund half of a Research Technical Professional (RTP), Dr Christopher Jones, for 3 years (50% contribution from EPSRC) to run and maintain the PFIB instrument. FIB instruments are complex and having a dedicated RTP with extensive FIB experience will enhance the effectiveness of the instrument and accelerate training and seedcorn projects with new PIs.

UoB leads the NNUF National Ion Beam Facility for Active Materials, which includes a PFIB within the hot cells at UKAEA MRF, dedicated to high-radioactivity specimens that require robotic loading and remote operation. This proposal will match the MRF capability with a PFIB at UoB that will join the NNUF facility. This is an important step to maximise the use of FIB in nuclear research, because this new capability at Bristol will bolster the NNUF ion beam facility and cater for specimens and training that does not require the hot cell and robotic handling capability at MRF. This facility will enhance the UK capability to characterise active materials using FIB and significantly boost the national capability for specimen preparation of active materials for advanced characterisation techniques, such as transmission electron microscopy (TEM), micromechanical testing and atom probe tomography (APT). The NNUF Active FIB Facility will work in partnership with the NNUF Active Atom Probe Facility at the University of Oxford to ensure that sufficient capacity for APT specimen preparation on active materials is in place to support this powerful and important technique.


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