University of Glasgow unveils £1m advanced materials imaging facility

Researchers from the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy are celebrating the installation of a unique piece of imaging technology.

Scientists and visitors had the first chance to see the University’s new xenon plasma focused ion beam (PFIB) microscope facility at an event in the Kelvin Building on Thursday 15 June.

The PFIB facility – which has a configuration that is unique in the UK – will give researchers access to a suite of new tools which will help analyse and develop new materials for industry.

The facility was officially opened by Tony Chapman, senior portfolio manager at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). EPSRC provided £1.08m in funding to support the purchase and installation of the PFIB.

The PFIB is the latest addition to the University’s Kelvin Nanocharacterisation Centre, following the installation of a £2.65m MagTEM electron microscope in 2012, which offers researchers the ability to image materials at the atomic scale.

It is essentially a ‘Swiss army penknife’ for the nanoworld. The new facility allows samples to be manipulated by focusing beams of plasma, which can be used to cut, slice, and drill samples, as well as analyse their composition via spectroscopy and crystallography.

Dr Donald Maclaren from the School of Physics and Astronomy has played a key role in the installation of the FIB facility. Dr Maclaren said: “We’re very pleased to be expanding the range of our imaging technology with the installation of this xenon plasma focused ion beam microscope.

“Focused ion beams are very, very useful tools. We can now, for example, slice a sample up like a loaf of bread, take detailed images of each slice, and produce a detailed 3D image of the sample. That could be useful for following a crack propagating through a pipe, for example, or for checking the pores of a piece of shale rock under consideration for drilling in the oil and gas industry. We can use spectroscopy to examine chemical variations in a block of steel, or analyse the elements present in a sample via crystallography.  

Dr Ian MacLaren, Principal Investigator on the award, added that the PFIB would allow the group to unlock the full potential of its functional capabilities for new materials research.

Dr Maclaren said: “We can now manipulate materials on a larger scale and then, if required, pass them along to our MagTEM facility to look at it more detail. We’ve already undertaken a lot of exciting research for industrial partners, and the unique capabilities of this new facility greatly strengthens the Kelvin Nanocharacterisation Centre.”

First published: 16 June 2017

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