Super-powerful microscope facility in £7million funding boost for materials research

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Photo of Professor Quentin Ramasse next to electron microscope

Professor Quentin Ramasse

It takes 750,000 atoms to cover the width of a human hair, but the super-powerful electron microscopes at SuperSTEM can scan and identify every single one of them.

More than £7 million has been awarded to the SuperSTEM Laboratory by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to operate as the National Research Facility for Advanced Electron Microscopy.

Its powerful electron microscopes enable both industrial and academic researchers, from the UK and internationally, to study the structure and chemistry of objects a millionth the width of a human hair, in the development and understanding of new advanced materials. The technology is particularly applicable to materials science and power generation, as well as in health and environmental research.

Science Minister Jo Johnson said: Thanks to this funding boost, the UK will continue to be home to valuable research that will help industries across the world develop more advanced materials that could go on to replicate the success of graphene.

Through our new Industrial Strategy and additional investment of £2.3 billion for research and development, we laying the foundations and working with industry to ensure the UK remains at the forefront on innovation for years to come.

Located at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Daresbury Laboratory, at Sci-Tech Daresbury in Cheshire, SuperSTEM is home to three super-microscopes relying on a technique known as aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM). The technique uses beams of electrons to create very detailed images of specimens at the single atom level. The Laboratory's newest microscope, 'SuperSTEM 3', was installed in 2015 and is currently one of only four of its kind in the world. 100 times more precise than instruments most commonly found in other institutions, it goes beyond 'simple' imaging to provide unrivalled information about how atoms in materials are bonded with each other.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC's Chief Executive said: I had the pleasure of inaugurating the SuperSTEM 3 microscope in 2015. This new £7 million EPSRC investment in state-of-the-art equipment builds on our previous support for research at the EPSRC SuperSTEM facility. STFC's Daresbury site is exactly the right environment to ensure our scientists have the necessary tools to carry out research and make discoveries that lead to innovations that benefit society and our economy.

Since it first opened in 2001, notable academic research at SuperSTEM has included work with Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov from the University of Manchester, as part of their Nobel Prize- winning research on graphene. Other academic work has included the development of a new nutritional iron supplement and research into materials that could double the battery life for electric vehicles.

Recent industrial researchers have included leading Danish catalysis and technology company, Haldor Topsøe A/S, who have collaborated closely with SuperSTEM in a number of projects aimed at developing cheaper and more efficient catalysts for oil refineries, to reduce air pollution.

Professor Quentin Ramasse, Director at SuperSTEM and Chair of Advanced Electron Microscopy at the University of Leeds, said: Challenges faced by society today, such as the development of new energy sources, or the provision of better healthcare and sustainability, all rely on the development of new materials, and SuperSTEM is enabling researchers to answer these challenges. We are thrilled at the EPSRC's ongoing support of SuperSTEM. The funding enables us to provide continued access to technology that is not normally available to researchers, and which is free at the point of access. We are also now in a position to upgrade a number of our key instruments, and particularly to upgrade our specialist facilities for preparing and finishing samples.

Notes for Editors:

Under its formal name, the 'EPSRC National Research Facility for Advanced Electron Microscopy', SuperSTEM was founded in 2001. Backed by world leading research and expertise, it is embedded within the academic community through a consortium of Universities led by the University of Leeds, alongside the universities of Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford, and most recently, the University of York. Over the last five years (since the last funding injection from EPSRC), SuperSTEM has assisted 190 distinct users (from 17 different countries) on 245 projects, resulting in at least 207 publications.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture.

We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

Reference: PN 75-17

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