Strategic Equipment - a Dual Beam FIB/SEM with large area patterning, EBSD and nanoprobe capabilities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Materials


The FIB/SEM instrument proposed combines various components to provide a powerful tool for a range of advanced nanoscale science. An accelerated ion beam focused to a spot size as small as 5 nanometres can be used to mill and slice materials with extreme precision, while an electron beam and various detectors provide means for nanoscale imaging and characterisation of the surfaces produced. A nanomanipulator probe allows samples to be rotated in-situ and for nanoscale slices of material to be lifted out for further study or use in devices.

We will use this instrument in two main ways:

1) Fabrication of micro-optical components

In Oxford we have in the past six years pioneered the use of focused ion beams to fabricate surfaces on materials such as fused silica or silicon with nanometre precision and sub-nanometre roughness. This allows us to create devices in which light is stored and manipulated with ultra-low scattering losses, and in which the interaction between light and matter is controlled with exquisite accuracy. We have already had considerable success with this technique on a small scale but are limited in the size of features we can produce. In this new instrument the sample can be moved with extremely high accuracy allowing larger surfaces to be patterned and enabling more complex and extended optical devices that reveal new physics and can be used as key components in a range of technologies. Photonics underpins a diverse range of industry in the UK and we anticipate that our work will lead to innovations in advanced information technologies and sensor systems for defence, healthcare and environmental monitoring, as well as the new field of Quantum Technologies in which the government is currently investing significant resources.

2) Characterisation of Materials

Oxford Materials department has long been a world-leading centre for materials characterisation, with particular contributions in electron microscopy and the microstructure of metals. It maintains a wide range of state-of-the-art instruments that are used both as high end scientific tools and as platforms for developing new techniques in microanalysis. This instrument will be used in both ways. It offers leading edge capabilities is 3D characterisation of material defects and impurities at the nanoscale that will enable new techniques aimed at understanding materials with unprecedented detail, and will be applied to solving key problems in the fields of nuclear materials, aerospace alloys, catalysis, and high temperature superconductors. Many of these projects are carried out in collaboration with industry, providing excellent routes towards commercial and societal impact as well as development of new knowledge. In collaboration with a local company (Oxford Instruments) we will try out prototype detector systems to accelerate instrument development and maintain our position at the forefront of this important field.

As well as the projects described above, a percentage of time on the instrument will be made available to outside users who will be able to find out about the instrument via our website and annual open days, and apply for instrument time to carry out their own research. The Oxford Materials department has extensive instrument support and user training programmes to ensure that all users can obtain the best from their instrument time. To ensure that the scientific projects pursued are of the highest quality, the use of the instrument and time allocation will be carried out by a steering board of experts who will meet at quarterly intervals.

Planned Impact

The immediate impact of the instrument will be to bring a new state of the art Materials Characterisation tool to the UK community. Through our shared usage policy and wide advertising of the instrument's capabilities, this will benefit both private and public sector organisations engaged in materials science research. The new techniques we are developing will also be made available through our training programmes thereby enhancing UK capabilities in FIB-based prototyping and in materials characterisation.
In the medium to long term the research programmes supported and enabled by the new instrument have potential for far-reaching impact on UK economic competitiveness, policymaking, and quality of life. Our programmes in structural metallics for nuclear and aerospace applications are carried out in close collaboration with industrial partners, so that progress made can feed rapidly through to improved performance of critical materials that impact UK (and worldwide) manufacturing. Improved alloys for aerospace reduce fuel demand and can play an important role in reducing the cost and environmental impact of aviation, with a global market for these materials estimated at US$15.3Bn ( Nuclear materials enhance the safety and efficiency of fission reactors for public benefit, and the realisation of practicable designs for GENIV fission or future fusion reactors would transform the global energy landscape. Similarly our research projects on superconducting materials and catalytic nanomaterials have potential for significant commercial and societal impact, and are all closely linked to the strategic aims of our industrial partners. Improved understanding and processing of superconducting materials and systems will lead to advances in superconducting magnet technology and impact the performance and cost of instruments such as MRI scanners for healthcare, as well as research tools used in scientific laboratories around the world. The market size for superconductors was valued by Transparency Market Research at US$427M in 2013 and predicted to reach US$1.3Bn in 2020. Higher performance and better targeted catalytic materials lead to improvements in (for example) petroleum refining, vehicle emissions, hydrogen generation, and polymer manufacturing. The world catalyst market is currently US$16Bn, and predicted to grow to US$20Bn by 2018.
Quantum technologies are beginning to generate substantial commercial interest and although the current market is small, the field is viewed by many as having potential to transform all information-related fields, from sensing and detection (including imaging), metrology, communications, to computation. Major goals are perfectly secure communications (available in a limited sense now), improved clocks and cameras, and computers that can simulate complex molecules and perform calculations that classical computers would find intractably difficult. The new EPSRC funded Oxford-led Hub on Networked Quantum Information Technologies (NQIT) involves 20 industrial partners, including large international corporations such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and government agencies such as DSTL and NPL who seek both to guide components and systems to market and to use quantum technologies to enhance their businesses.
The optical device fabrication for which the proposed FIB will be used has potential for impact across the full range of technologies that NQIT is developing. A fully engineered light-matter interface can within the timescale of the project greatly enhance the capacity of the scalable quantum processor that is the main NQIT goal, and produce other (simpler) devices such as optical sensors that are of benefit to healthcare, defence and environmental monitoring. Single photon sources operating at ambient temperatures can benefit the York-led hub and their industrial partners, and can bring societal benefits by lowering the barrier to deployment of secure communications systems.


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