Lancaster University Experimental Equipment

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Vice-Chancellor's Office

Abstract

Lancaster University is consistently ranked in the UK Top 10 (the only such NW university), and in the top 1% of universities worldwide. Lancaster plays a key role in the N8 Northern university partnership and the annual Higher Education Business and Community Interaction Survey places Lancaster in the UK top 10 for the number and value of its SME partnerships.

To ensure the highest quality research Lancaster has made targeted investments of over £450m since 2004, with a further £135m planned for the next three years. Targeted and strategic investment is employed to expand in new areas and to improve performance in our current subject strengths. Areas of strength at Lancaster include: research in advanced functional materials; ultra-isolated environments; nuclear materials research; and development and the security of large-scale complex cyber-physical environments, and these four areas make up the themes of the experiment bundles in this application.

Following a very strong performance in RAE 2008, we anticipate a strong outcome in the 2014 exercise to reinforce our position among the UK's very best research-led universities. The experimental equipment highlighted herein will support, refresh and update facilities in these areas. Existing academics in these fields have solid international reputations, and we are also recruiting 50 rising stars in celebration of our 50th anniversary, whose appointment will be strategically aligned to support and develop our very best research.

Lancaster has a strong international presence through strategic international university and industrial partnerships. We collaborate globally on key research issues with international impact. Nationally, Lancaster is a leading research-intensive university. As a key partner in the N8 consortium, Lancaster contributes to the N8 database of assets and follows guidelines set out in the N8 Equipment Sharing Toolkit (N8 EST) to facilitate sharing of equipment between members. New state-of-thert facilities in these key areas will lead to new research collaborations and opportunities - both at a national and international level and help to bring in talented collaborators not only to the UK but to the Northern region.

Demand assessment studies conducted externally on behalf of Lancaster show significant industrial demand for the use of these facilities for their own research and development activities as well as research and innovation projects with the university. Lancaster University has an excellent track record of engaging with SMEs, and since 1998 it has delivered over 50 projects, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, totaling over £72m, enabling the university to work with over 5000 companies to date.

An essential element of our sustainability model is the promotion of industrial access to our facilities and resources. The university already has in place access arrangements for industry in key facilities (InfoLab21, Lancaster Environment Centre and Engineering), with over 100 company staff currently co-located in facilities in our departments. The new Collaborative Technology Access Programme (cTAP) at Lancaster will develop a business model to provide managed industry access to an increasingly wide range of technologies on the campus, including the facilities highlighted within this proposal. We are developing a single entry route to our facilities, supported by a business-facing group of technical staff and believe we will be the first university to offer this service.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
This proposal includes 4 bundles of experimental equipment that will directly influence research activities at Lancaster University. Each of the bundles are themed around specific areas of strength at Lancaster which have been highlighted as key strategic areas, with significant funding profiles and international recognition. Within the university the following departments will directly benefit from this investment: Chemistry, Computing and Communications, Engineering, Physics and Psychology. Systems will also be put into place to support access to colleagues and students across the university.
Externally there is documented demand from industry to access the equipment requested and to work with Lancaster on innovation and development. Lancaster has an extensive track record of working with industry both through paid access agreements and through active collaboration. We will develop a business model to provide managed industry access via a single entry route, supported by a business-facing group of technical staff. As a key member of the N8 university consortium our updated facilities will be added to the N8 database of accessible assets to facilitate equipment sharing across the North of England.
In terms of the research generated as a result of obtaining this equipment the benefits are extremely wide reaching and will allow us to deepen relationships with current collaborators as well as attracting new partnerships. In particular we expect this research to be of interest to fellow academics, industry partners, policy makers, governments nationally and internationally, public interest groups and the general public.

How will they benefit from this research?
Increasing the level of facilities in these 4 key areas at Lancaster will directly influence research grant income into the university. It will allow us to engage in new national and international partnerships raising the profile of the North West region by allowing us to exploit the region's top performing areas of science, engineering and technology, where we are on a par with regions such as London (with Imperial College and University College London) and the SE of England (with Oxford and Cambridge). We also expect an increase in 4* publications, conference papers, public engagement events, policy papers and media publications. State-of-the-art facilities will allow us to attract new highly qualified academics to Lancaster and the most promising research students.
Our industrial demand exercise has shown that the investment in experimental equipment will deliver measurable economic impact via direct industry use and collaborative research. These independent assessments have demonstrated real industrial need for the highlighted areas and systems already in place at Lancaster will be further developed to maximize the opportunities available to industrial partners whilst also ensuring the sustainability of the facilities through a fair and considered business model.
Within the Northwest region the Northwest Competitiveness Operational Programme identified Lancashire as the second largest contributor (20%) to the regional economy, and recognised Lancaster University as one of only two drivers of growth in the Lancashire economy. Lancaster University has a strategic focus on enhancing innovation capacity and competitiveness of SMEs. Since 1998 it has delivered over 50 projects, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, totaling over £72m, enabling the university to work with over 5000 companies to date. These projects have generated over 250 new business and 4300 new jobs. The latest independent evaluation of our business engagement programmes by EKOS Ltd (March 2012) estimates a return on investment of over £15 for every £1 invested, well ahead in value-for-money terms of similar 'science, R&D and innovation infrastructure' interventions, with typical benchmarks of £8 to £9 return per £1 of public investment.

Publications


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Zhu MJ (2017) Edge currents shunt the insulating bulk in gapped graphene. in Nature communications
Bradley DI (2016) Nanoelectronic primary thermometry below 4 mK. in Nature communications
 
Description This grant was used to purchase equipment for the new IsoLab facility at Lancaster University. IsoLab is a beyond state-of-the-art ultralow noise laboratory that has been built with substantial contributions from the Wolfson Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the J. Moulton Foundation and University funds. The building contains three brand new laboratories where vibration, acoustic noise and electromagnetic disturbance have been drastically reduced to give an "ultra-isolated" experimental environment for new characterisation capabilities in optics, scanning microscopy and the lowest temperatures achievable. The build was completed in November 2016 and we are currently in the "fit-out" stage where equipment, including that purchased with this this grant, is being moved in.

Four major items were purchased: specialist components for the IsoLab building itself, eg. vibration isolation blocks and airsprings; an Oxford Instruments bottom-loading Triton dilution refrigerator from; a Polytec vibrometer; and a novel Intermodulation Products multiple-channel lock-in amplifier.

The Intermodulation Products multi-frequency lock-in amplifier is a new instrument for extremely sensitive phase-sensitive measurements that is capable of measuring many channels at once. This drastically reduces the number of electrically noisy instruments that we house inside IsoLab. Preliminary research has been published on a research technique invented for probing new nano-electro-mechanical sensors.
Investigators have a continuing close collaboration with the company, a spin-out from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, to customise the instrument for specific applications.

The Polytec vibrometer is the fastest and most sensitive non-contact detector available for the study of femtometre-range displacements. Working with Polytec a new methodology for measuring novel quantum nano-electro-mechanical systems (QEMS) has been developed, in particular those based on 2D materials such as graphene, a Lancaster strength. This vibrometer is an integral component of our new Materials Imaging and Spectroscopy Tool, a facility for external users exploring diverse systems from energy storage solutions to functional biomedical materials. This includes the spin-out Lancaster Materials Analysis Ltd. Research papers are in the submission stage.

The Oxford Instruments (OI) bottom-loading dilution refrigerator is a next-generation "dry" cryogen-free machine that allows the measurement and characterisation of devices at millikelvin temperatures without the need for expensive liquid helium infrastructure. With this particular machine one can load samples via a cryogenic vacuum lock which drastically reduces the turnaround time between room temperature and cold. We have worked closely with OI throughout the grant period on developing new cryogenic technology through their in-kind benefit, and on two new InnovateUK/EPSRC grants for the commercialisation of new quantum technologies. We have also used this work to bolster ties with the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at Manchester, where we housed the refrigerator before the move into IsoLab. These new partnerships have led to the invention of a new type of magnetic sensor which may significantly outperform current SQUID-based magnetometers, and to prototyping work at OI towards bringing a new cryo-free cold platform to market. This facility has been used for several research publications in the pipeline and already a high impact paper in collaboration with NGI has just appeared.
Exploitation Route The equipment purchased using this grant has been used to support some of the proposed impact activity of IsoLab and aligns with the university strategy of translating an international reputation for research, teaching and training into activities with maximum impact. This facility further underpins the characterisation capability of the Quantum Technology Centre (QTC), a major Lancaster University investment to establish a significant new technology presence in the North West, giving access to industry and academic users to accelerate the pull-through of science to market and bring economic benefit to the region, and the UK. The QTC houses state-of-the-art facilities for creating and measuring new devices, including nanofabrication tools and molecular beam epitaxy reactors for layer-by-layer growth of atomic structures.

The work facilitated by the equipment is already the gaining interest of external academic and industrial users, and is being accessed by existing and new commercial partners, from major corporations Oxford Instruments and Polytec, to new spin-out SMEs such as Lancaster Materials Analysis and Quantum Base.

Though it is still early days for IsoLab and the purchased equipment, we are already demonstrating that our model for taking our finding and facilities forward through new partnerships is working, and is working well.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy
 
Description The equipment funded by this grant is currently being commissioned in IsoLab, a new building at Lancaster University that provides three ultra-isolated laboratory spaces where the influence of vibration, acoustic noise and electromagnetic disturbance are kept to the absolute minimum. The laboratory has been designed for the study of new phenomena, new materials and new devices, and to drive innovation. It provides access to advanced instrumentation and measurement capability, and training for current and future researchers in academia and industry. Following its commission, IsoLab will house the best and most sensitive measuring and cooling equipment, along with the provision for ensuring vibration isolation and electromagnetic shielding. This will take controlled environments to a new standard. We are making this user facility available to workers, national, international, academic and industrial, in many fields. Although IsoLab is not yet officially open, we are already creating impact with the industrial partners who supported us on the grant proposal, and with other new partners already attracted to the capabilities of our new facility and its equipment. For instance Polytec are working closely with our academics and their spin-out Lancaster Materials Analysis to create a new tool for materials imaging and spectroscopy that will enable sub-surface microscopy, and Intermodulation Products are using our in-the-field experience with their amplifiers to develop methodologies and functionalities to target new markets. Perhaps the best current example of real impact is our collaborative work bringing together Lancaster University, Oxford Instruments and the National Graphene Institute, where we are currently prototyping a new cryogenic tool and magnetic sensor, with InnovateUK backing. This could have potentially far-reaching applications in sectors from healthcare diagnostics though geo-surveying to environmental monitoring. We are currently at the stage of discussing IP protections and details are necessarily commercially sensitive.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Electronics,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Other
Impact Types Economic