1 April 2014 14:41

Physicists at Lancaster University have created a spin-out company to exploit research that is, quite literally, cutting edge.

The new company, Lancaster Material Analysis Ltd. (LMA), will offer materials analysis services based on a proprietary technique, beam-exit cross-sectional polishing (BEXP), at lower cost than conventional methods such as transmission electron microscopy (TEM).

Developed over four years in Lancaster University’s Department of Physics – the top ranked physics department in the country for research (RAE 2008) – BEXP could benefit manufacturers of a wide range of high-technology devices, such as lasers, processors, solar cells and LEDs.

Rather than producing a conventional cross-section that is perpendicular to the surface of a sample, BEXP uses a modified ion-beam polisher to create a shallow-angled slice through the sample. The cut can be hundreds of micrometres wide, whilst maintaining sub-nanometre roughness right across the area of interest.

This innovation allows a relatively low-cost branch of microscopy techniques, known collectively as scanning probe microscopy (SPM), to be used for cross-sectional analysis of samples with thin layers, a task which is generally performed by TEM.

Adoption of BEXP+SPM can reduce the costs of cross-sectional analysis by up to 50 per cent.

“Lowering the cost of materials analysis is clearly advantageous for the development of the next generation of devices, while the introduction of quality control procedures using this technique at early stages of the production process reduces waste and lowers costs,” said Dr Alex Robson, CEO of Lancaster Material Analysis. “Our research has demonstrated that when measuring thin layers, BEXP and SPM analysis has a similar precision to standard TEM.

“The technique can also be used in combination with other kinds of analysis, such as X-ray diffraction, to extract even more information.”

BEXP was developed by Lancaster University’s Dr Oleg Kolosov, Dr Manus Hayne, Dr Ilya Grishin and Dr Alex Robson, and has benefited from funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the form of PhD scholarships, Impact Acceleration Account funding and a Doctoral Prize. A grant was also provided by the Joy Welch Educational Charitable Trust.

LMA will work with clients from the commercial and academic communities, and welcomes discussion with those interested in the cross-sectional analysis of thin layers. Individuals or organisations interested in contacting LMA can email info@lancastermaterialanalysis.co.uk

For more information about BEXP, visit http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/sci-tech/business/case_studies/qtc_ionbeam_flyer.pdf