Do you understand how and why your material fails? Do you understand how you can improve the performance of your material? Did you know that there is an excellence centre in the UK that provides unprecedented sensitivities for imaging and analysing structure and properties of materials - SuperSTEM.
The precision and resolution at which some new materials can be produced require advanced characterisation techniques with sensitivities beyond the reach of most university and industry laboratories. SuperSTEM is the National Facility that offers three advanced aberration-corrected Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopes (STEM) supported by a team of experts from a consortium of universities that includes Leeds, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Oxford.
What you should know about SuperSTEM:
1. Third in the world - unrivalled precision
In February 2015 SuperSTEM acquired a Nion HERMES STEM, which is the third of its kind in the world and the first ever in Europe. This new microscope not only allows one to visualize the position of atoms in a material, but also provides valuable information about their composition and how strongly they are bonded together.
2. Sub-nanometre imaging and analysis
Advantages of the aberration-corrected instruments at SuperSTEM over similar instrumentation are the high brightness electron source, unique aberration corrector optics and unrivalled stability. These features together allow high beam current sub-nanometre size probing with combined high spatial resolution (< 0.1 nm) and high energy resolution (0.3 eV – 0.01eV for the new HERMES instrument).
3. It can actually “see” single atoms
SuperSTEM facilities provide imaging and identification of single atoms and analysis of their local chemical and electronic environment. In addition, they facilitate characterisation of distinct distribution patterns of atoms and shapes of the complex cavities in the atomic structure.
“The SuperSTEM has been invaluable, providing detailed maps of the distribution of primary atoms, impurities and defects”.
University of Manchester
4. Defects and impurities at an atomic scale
The presence of defects and impurities in a material has a strong impact on its properties and performance. SuperSTEM capabilities are able to identify and locate these nanoscale entities and link them to material properties.
“...has improved our understanding of why some diamond is brown and what happens on an atomic scale when that brown colour is removed by heat treatment. This research has culminated in the imaging of facetted vacancy clusters with diameters of 3-4 nm in heat treated Chemical Vapour Deposition synthetic diamond. While theory and other techniques have suggested that small vacancy clusters play a role in causing brown colour in diamond, SuperSTEM research has provided the first direct evidence for the existence of vacancy clusters in diamond.”
5. Helps you to enhance material thermal and electrical performance
The understanding of the electronic properties of a material is crucial to interpreting its electrical and thermal transport properties and failure mechanisms. SuperSTEM advanced characterisation can give your business valuable insight into the quest for new nanoengineering materials with optimized performance.
“…using the chemical mapping capabilities of the SuperSTEM microscopes, the SuperSTEM the distinct distributions of Ba and Nd, the shapes of the complex cavities in the atomic structure, and the nature of the low angle grain boundary are revealed.” Bob Freer says “With this knowledge we were able to design routes to engineer the microstructure and chemistry to enhance the thermoelectric properties.”
University of Manchester
6. Which additives to use
SuperSTEM is able to image single atom additives at the edge of a host nanoscale material and thus monitor how they alter its structure and ultimately change its bulk properties.
“The images show exactly how the atoms are arranged. Knowing this helps to explain what makes a catalyst good or bad. The images are hard to obtain as we are working right at the edge of what is physically possible. We did this work anyway because other experimental tools gave in the past only some hints to the structure and no one had ever seen this type of industrial catalyst, atom- by-atom.”
Dr Stig Helveg from Haldor Topsøe.
7. Study of toxicity of nanomaterials
SuperSTEM enables the monitoring of degradation of nanoparticles,thereby inferring whether, and in what manner, nanomaterial properties may be a threat to the environment and human population.
SuperSTEM to monitor iron oxide nanoparticles biodegradation in liver-tissue: Researchers from University of Leeds King’s College London and the Medical Research Council Human Nutrition Research Unit, Cambridge, have used SuperSTEM to image and analyse the structure of this mineral core in liver-tissue sections and from the resulting images have established that the protein shell of the molecule acts as a template for the mineralization of the iron. This work has been used, for example, to monitor the biodegradation of iron oxide nanoparticles used for MRI contrast enhancement.
8. Delicate materials without damage
The SuperSTEM team has pioneered a number of techniques and strategies to minimise or mitigate damage to materials that are sensitive to electron irradiation, thus enabling high resolution and high precision studies of delicate materials.
9. SuperSTEM - a microscopy hub
The SuperSTEM team has extensive expertise in the application of analytical electron microscopy to a wide range of samples, including advanced materials, geological and biological materials. The facility also coordinates access to complementary electron microscopy and sample preparation techniques through agreements with partner institutions.
10. Open for business
EPSRC’s SuperSTEM facility is based at the Daresbury laboratory near Warrington and is supported by a network of collaborating universities, among them Leeds, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Oxford. Several leading UK businesses from diverse sectors such as the oil-gas, energy, mining and microelectronics industries have used and harnessed SuperSTEM capabilities and expertise to their advantage.
Any UK business can engage with SuperSTEM facility and its team directly through subcontract services: access is regulated based on scientific merit via a peer-reviewed proposal system (see www.superstem.org/access). Additionally, you can apply for funding through the following programmes:
● Innovation Vouchers: You can apply for an Innovation Voucher worth up to £5,000 to pay for an external expert to help your business grow. You can use this expert to get advice on a novel idea or to use design within your business. You can ask them to help you make the most of intellectual property (IP). Innovation Vouchers may also be used to buy time and support on specialist equipment or facilities.
● Innovate UK competition calls: Innovate UK funds, supports and connects businesses to accelerate sustainable economic growth and innovation across a wide range of areas. These projects can be collaborative R&D, feasibility studies or proof of concept. If you want to find out more about Innovate UK competitions, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
● Horizon 2020: The principal goal of Horizon 2020 is to ensure Europe produces world-class science, removing barriers and making it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovation. See here for more information about Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials, Biotechnology and Advanced Manufacturing call documents.
● Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE): The CDE funds novel, high-risk, high-potential-benefit research to develop capabilities for UK Armed Forces and National security.
For more information and to contact SuperSTEM, please click here.
If you want to discuss opportunities to engage with SuperSTEM and other EPSRC Mid Range Facilities with the KTN, please contact me by email (email@example.com).
Left: 'Wonder material', one atom thick and SuperSTEM microscope allows to see each and every single one of those atoms. Credits: Q.M. Ramasse, D.M. Kepapstoglou, SuperSTEM Laboratory. Right: Intricate nanochessboard contrast pattern observed in micrographs of A-site deficient Nd2/3TiO3 complex oxide perovskites. Courtesy: D.M. Kepaptsoglou (SuperSTEM Laboratory), F. Azough (University of Manchester). Reproduced with permission from the AmericanChemical Society.