Lancaster Material Analysis

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 company approached the University for assistance to develop its image analysis software. Much of their work revolves around the cross-sectional analysis of nanoscale structures using scanning probe microscopy (SPM) techniques. Although current methods of analysing images for this purpose are effective, they can be incredibly time-consuming, as small-scale structures are identified manually rather than automatically via software. LMA wanted to modify existing software in order to automate much of the analysis process.

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

Amy Fleming, Computing and Communications, was recruited through the Science and Technology Internship Programme for a one-month internship with LMA. Amy built upon the foundation work laid down by a previous science and technology intern and created a bespoke plug-in for the software used for their analysis, which can be further developed by the company at a later date.


The internship was fully funded through the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation (CGE), with a total of £1,200. The CGE is a collaborative partnership, partly financed by the European Regional Development Fund, which unites the expertise, resources and global contacts of Lancaster University, the University of Liverpool, and commercialisation consultancy Inventya Ltd.


Although LMA has not yet begun trading and is continuing to optimise its services, Amy’s work has allowed the company to complete a number of goals it wished to cover before the business became active in a shorter timeline.

Benefits to the company

  • Developed a unique software plug-in tailored to the company’s analytical needs
  • Further development of this plug-in will reduce LMA’s costs and allow the company to offer a more efficient service, with faster turnaround times and potentially lower fees

Benefits to the university

  • Increased the potential for success for one of Lancaster University’s spin-out companies, and furthered the development of a marketable product
  • Provided a student with the opportunity to gain professional work experience in a highly regarded institution working alongside top specialists in their field

Benefits 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 which have been further developed by this work can reduce costs and industrial waste generated by certain semiconductor companies

Company Feedback

“We’ve greatly benefitted from Lancaster University’s Science and Technology Internships Programme. It offered us an excellent opportunity to develop our services to make them more appealing to potential customers, and allowed us to tap into the expertise of Lancaster University's students,” Dr Alex Robson, Lancaster Material Analysis.

Future Plans

LMA continue their collaborative relationship with Lancaster University. Further development of the beam-exit cross-sectional polishing technique has been funded by Lancaster University’s Impact Accelerator Account (IAA), and LMA stands to benefit by acting as the commercial route for this technology.

The IAA is £900,000 funding from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council to finance a range of activities designed to foster greater collaboration with industry and bridge the gap between the lab and the marketplace.

LMA plan to apply for further funding for research and development, have taken on several interns, and are in discussions about a Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE) –part-funded long-term research and development projects, usually in the form of a PhD.