Lancaster Material Analysis

Lancaster Material Analysis was able to identify suitable software which could be modified to automate their analysis, which will increase the company’s efficiency and the range of products they can provide services for.

The organisation

Lancaster University spin-out company Lancaster Material Analysis Ltd. (LMA), based in Lancaster, offers commercial access to material analysis services, in particular scanning probe microscopy and cross-sectional imaging and analysis. The end users of their services include industrial companies and academic institutes. LMA’s close links with the University’s Department of Physics allows it to tap into the considerable knowledge and expertise of researchers actively engaged in the study of a wide range of materials using these techniques.


The challenge

The human eye has evolved to be highly developed at picking out patterns, but nevertheless, this part of the process is time consuming, expensive and prone to human error. Indeed, certain semiconductor devices have hundreds, if not thousands, of layers, making analysis ‘by hand’ near impossible. It is for these complex devices are where detailed knowledge of all the layers is most crucial. LMA wanted to generate and develop image analysis tools to enable automated determination of layer thickness of multi-layered semiconductor structures.

Expertise sought

  • Software development
  • Knowledge of relevant programming languages
  • Knowledge of image and material analysis
  • Knowledge of atomic force microscopy/scanning probe microscopy or equivalent imaging techniques

The solution

Dr Manus Hayne’s group identified software which could be modified in order to automatically detect layer thicknesses, and worked towards developing a plug-in and an algorithm for this analysis. The group also studied the types of sample for which this analysis would be most beneficial. Further development of software will greatly increase the efficiency of LMA’s data analysis, free up management time and reduce labour costs.


The total cost of the project for staff, travel expenses and materials was £10,000 funded through the Impact Acceleration Account (IAA). The IAA is £600,000 funding from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council to finance range of activities designed to foster greater collaboration with industry and bridge the gap between the lab and the marketplace.


The project has yielded invaluable information which will lead to the development of software that can be used to automate much of LMA’s analysis, making the process faster, more reproducible and substantially more efficient. This in turn will make the company more attractive to potential customers.


To the company

  • Automated image analysis
  • Reduced labour costs
  • Broadened the company’s portfolio, allowing it to provide cost-effective analysis for a wider range of samples.
  • Allowed the company to offer a cheaper, more efficient service

To the university

  • Complementary research with other academics within the Physics Department
  • Potential for future research collaborations
  • Increase the impact and commercialisation of research

To society

  • The partnership allowed for further advancement in nanoscale microscopies, which have numerous application potential in physical, biological and chemical fields
  • Adoption of the analytical techniques further developed by this work can reduce costs and industrial waste generated by semiconductor companies.

Researcher feedback

“One of the great things about Lancaster University is the positive attitude towards collaborative research with companies, and recently there have been some great initiatives to encourage this further. Our partnership with Lancaster Material Analysis is particularly strong, contributing to on-going research programmes and providing a context for our work. Furthermore, the unique services offered by Lancaster Material Analysis provide opportunities to engage with new academic or industrial partners. ” Dr Manus Hayne

Company feedback

“We’ve greatly benefitted from continued collaboration with Lancaster University. Further development of the beam-exit cross-sectional polishing technique, around which many of the company services are based, allows us to improve our services, make them more efficient, and broaden the range of samples which we can analyse in a cost-effective manner. ” Dr Alex Robson, Managing Director, Lancaster Materials Analysis.

Future plans

LMA will continue their collaborative relationship with Lancaster University. Further development of beam-exit cross-sectional polishing and related techniques can be commercialised through the company. LMA plan to apply for further funding for research and development and have taken on several interns.