News Item

Opening of Ultra-Low Vibration Research Lab & Research Clean Room

Today saw the official opening of the School's new "Ultra-Low Vibration Resarch Lab". This is a highly specialised facility that will allow Dr Peter Wahl and his research group to look at the behaviour of electrons near the surfaces of solids with exquisite resolution. The School's new Research Clean Room was also officially opened today. This will allow our research teams to expand their work in microphotonics, polymer optoelectronics, and related science and technology.

The new facilities were officially opened by Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning. She commented that "“A strong, vibrant and diverse economy is essential to our national prosperity and in creating the wealth to support high quality public services. Universities and facilities such as this play a key role in both, providing research that could contribute hugely to our economy while also ensuring that high quality learning opportunities are on offer.”

This was followed by a celebration of the science involved through presentations by other leaders in this field, Professor Klaus Kern (Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research), Professor J C Seamus Davis (Cornell), and Professor Jeremy Baumberg (Cambridge). We were joined for the celebration by senior members of the University, senior members of SUPA, and a number of guests.

Dr Wahl's team uses special tunneling microscope techniques that allows the viewing of individual atoms in a surface, and the densities of electrons around them. This in done in very high vacuum, at very low temperatures, and in very strong magnetic fields. A better understanding of the way that electrons move together in certain materials may have major impacts on our ability to design and use superconducting materials.

In order to be able to view individual atoms the environment in which the research is done has to be isolated as far as possible from the vibrations of everyday life. For this reason the research kit is located in a multi-layer concrete box and the floating floor is on top on top of huge "springs" to isolate the kit from vibrations through the ground from traffic etc. The experiments each hang from a massive "table" which itself is on anti-vibration mounts to the floor. Dr Wahl is pictured above with one of these rigs that can take samples down to milliKelvin temperatures and which can maintain positioning between the sample and the probing point sufficient to be able to "see" individual atoms.

The set of pictures below shows something of the construction of this unusual building.

Dr Wahl says "This facility will provide an ultra-low vibration environment for the custom-built microscopes developed in my group, which allow us to study electronic and magnetic states at the atomic scale. It will be a unique building in the UK and seeks its equals in the world. The experiments will benefit strongly from an optimal shielding from environmental influences. I am grateful to the University and the School of Physics and Astronomy for their support for what will become a centre for atomic-scale characterization of advanced materials. The research will complement existing research strengths, e.g. in Angular Resolved Photoemission at the School of Physics and Astronomy in Condensed Matter Physics and specifically research on Topological Quantum Matter and Strongly Correlated Electron Systems. The design team has made a great effort to provide the best possible environment for this research."

In parallel with the construction of the ultra-low vibration lab a new research clean room has been built, so that there are now two highly specialised new research facilities at the East end of the JF Allen building. The existing clean room in the main body of the building will continue to be used, and the new facility will greatly enhance the number of activities that can take place at any one time. Prof Ifor Samuel, Dr Graham Turnbull, Prof Malte Gather, Dr Andrea di Falco, and Dr Liam O'Faolain and their research teams are amongst the users of this facility.

Professor Ifor Samuel, Director of Research in the School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “2015 is the International Year of Light, and we are very excited to have these new facilities to advance our research on lasers and optoelectronic materials, enabling us to explore their applications in solar power, displays, communications and healthcare.”

Above, the "rear car park" of the J F Allen building in 2014

and here a similar view after the construction of these two new facilities. The blue and white building is the ultra-low vibration lab, and the nearer grey-clad building is the cleanroom.


First posted BDS 21.5.15