Advanced functional materials are fundamentally important to developing many new technologies and devices that will shape our future. They will define our ability to create cleaner, cheaper, safer and more efficient design, production, manufacturing processes, and technologies. As such, they will be instrumental in addressing many of the most pressing problems facing the world today in areas such as energy, healthcare and medicine, pollution abatement, food production, and manufacturing. Yet central to the development of these new materials is a proper understanding of the science that underpins both their structures and properties at the atomic and/or molecular level. This can only be achieved through the strategic provision of the most state-of-the-art analytical facilities.
In conjunction with the Cambridge Advanced Imaging Centre (CAIC), the Chemistry Department will establish a virtual electron microscopy (EM) hub in the University that offers a unique emphasis on "materials synthesis". Capabilities will comprise bespoke facilities supporting multiple research disciplines. Spearheading this hub will be a 200 kV field emission gun-scanning transmission electron microscope (FEG-S/TEM) with excellent high resolution and STEM imaging capabilities, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) and electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) for elucidating chemical composition and bonding, the ability to tomographically reconstruct multiple images to allow the 3D visualization of complex materials and a cryo-holder to enable the analysis not just of so-called 'hard' materials but also the study of 'soft' materials. This TEM-led hub will form one part of a University-wide EM network in which each hub maintains and develops the instrumentation for different specialties and, between them, create the necessary equipment capacity for our research portfolio across Cambridge.
'Hard' materials are often highly crystalline and can exhibit long-range order; yet disorder is often critical to their function. They include metals and metal oxides, porous materials such as zeolites and metal-organic frameworks, semiconductors and ceramics. Meanwhile, 'soft' materials include self-assembled metallopolymers, polymer micelles, nano-gels and bio-inspired or biological materials. These present very different analytical challenges and mean that instruments are often designed to cope with one or other sample type. However, the latest generation of TEMs has the ability to interrogate both of these diverse types of sample. This development offers a step-change in the way that the Departments such as Chemistry, which has research groups synthesizing a broad array of hard and soft materials, can approach Advanced Materials characterization. It is now possible to develop an EM hub that caters for such a broad research demographic. This has two game-changing effects on state-of-the-art research. First, the proposed instrument will spearhead an EM hub that will offer a unique opportunity for the cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques between the hard and soft Advanced Materials communities not only in academia, but also in industry. Second, it will provide essential capacity-building to a broad range of research groups, ensuring routine hands-on access to researchers and the ability to triage samples more efficiently than is currently possible, so enhancing the effectiveness with which more detailed analysis on much more specialized instrumentation can be undertaken.
The wide-ranging capabilities of the proposed Chemistry/CAIC hub mean that Advanced Materials relevant to a wide range of fields can be interrogated. We expect new data to impact on research in a range of areas, including aerospace, automotives, battery and energy technology, catering and food production, communications, drilling and refining, drug delivery, electronics, healthcare, hygiene, ICT, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, regenerative engineering and sensing.