Posted: November 17, 2009

Swansea nanotechnology center home for one of UK's most sophisticated electron-microscopes

(Nanowerk News) Swansea University's School of Engineering will be the new home for one of the most technologically-sophisticated electron microscopes in the UK after securing £267,700 in funding from the Welsh Assembly Government's Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) Programme.
Known as a cryo-scanning electron microscope, the device is capable of examining single cells or even single molecules and will be used to help researchers within the Multidisciplinary Nanotechnology Centre (MNC) carry out high level research and development in a range of sectors from healthcare and steel to printed electronics and solar cells.
The microscope has been custom built to ensure it incorporates a number of highly specialist features, making it one of only two in the UK with this functionality. Capable of magnification of up to one million times or a thousand times more than that of a typical optical microscope, the device will be used as a vital tool for examining organic or biological samples that would typically be destroyed or damaged during traditional imaging.
Commenting on its capabilities, Dr Thierry Maffeis, lecturer at the MNC said: "The crucial development from basic research to prototype and commercialisation of nano-devices would be very difficult to achieve without this facility. The microscope enables us to examine objects such as mammalian cells, neurons, etc. under very low temperatures making it possible, for example, to see how engineered nanostructures interact with cells.
"This will tremendously assist ongoing projects within the nanotechnology centre and the institute of life science such as the development of biosensors used to detect cancerous cells, scaffolds for tissue engineering and literally thousands of other applications."
Dr Owen Guy, who specialises in electronics for biosensor applications added: "Access to world class facilities is critical to the success of any modern engineering department. The MNC has a superb range of surface science and device fabrication tools but there is a glaring absence of a scanning electron microscope with truly nanoscale imaging capabilities.
"There are an increasing number of nano innovations emanating from the Multidisciplinary Nanotechnology Centre, the Materials Research Centre and the Centre for NanoHealth and this cryo-scanning electron microscope is an essential facility that will be utilised by knowledge transfer projects from across the University.
"Few industrial organisations have such a sophisticated and multifunctional tool and access to it through collaborative projects or contract work is a vital resource for Welsh and UK industry."
The Assembly Government's A4B programme is designed to stimulate and encourage universities and institutes of higher education to collaborate with industry on R&D and knowledge transfer projects and help bring new products and processes to the market.
The application for funding from the A4B programme has been supported by a number of companies including Corus, Haemair, Cyden, Surface Technology Systems, GE Healthcare and Pure Wafer - highlighting the strategic importance of the equipment to Welsh industry.
Ieuan Wyn Jones, Minister for the Economy and Transport, said the acquisition would provide academia and industry with an ability that was currently lacking in Wales but had the potential to significantly advance a host of existing projects and create new avenues of innovative, collaborative research.
"Knowledge transfer from our universities to industry is key to supporting and developing a knowledge based economy and this investment will enable business operating at the leading edge of key industry sectors to maintain that edge.
"The availability of this equipment will lead to new collaborative or research bids that will stimulate further research investment. The need for it is readily demonstrated by the range of companies supporting the bid from Swansea University.
"The unique capabilities of this piece of equipment, coupled with its unparalleled resolution, will greatly aid and encourage research and development activity in many technology based SMEs. It will give them access to equipment that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive for them to acquire."
Professor Steve Wilks, Deputy Head of the School of Engineering said: "This is a tremendous opportunity for both the MNC and Swansea University to further its advances in partnership with industry in developing new products and processes which takes advantage of the growth in the Nanotechnology, Photovoltaic (solar energy) and Plastic Electronic markets."
Source: Swansea University