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18 March 2008

A High Power Laser Zap to Nanotechnology

With the predicted ramping up of nanotechnology based materials over the next decade, expectations are high that demand for high-tech materials will also skyrocket. Already the evidence is present for a revolution in the manufacture of materials based on nano-engineered structures. However, prior to these "nanomaterials" becoming dominant in the marketplace a precise understanding of how to tailor their properties for specific applications, coupled with cheap, reliable fabrication methods is required.

Scientists at the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) of the University of Surrey and at the School of Chemistry in the University of Bristol have been awarded funding of nearly £0.87M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to investigate techniques using high-power, short-pulsed lasers for the production of important nanomaterials, including nanoclusters, nanotubes and nanorods of carbon and zinc oxide, with controllable electrical and optical properties. These techniques, including pulsed laser deposition and laser annealing, are ideal research tools for rapid investigation of a wide variety of synthesis environments, which should enable a plethora of new technologically significant nanomaterials. This project will be highly synergistic, addressing the full range of challenges, from obtaining a fundamental understanding of the growth processes to producing physical, chemical and biological sensors based on the products.

The ATI’s Dr. Simon Henley, who will spearhead the research effort, said: "A focused short laser pulse can produce very extreme conditions, such as high temperatures and pressures, but only at the point of focus of the beam. We can use these conditions to generate highly energetic atoms and ions to drive a synthesis that would normally require the whole reaction to be performed in a high temperature furnace."

He added: "This collaboration brings together two groups with well-matched expertise in complementary areas. The group at Bristol specialises in obtaining a precise understanding of the chemistry occurring during laser synthesis, via optical and mass spectrometry, and the laser deposition research at the ATI focuses on producing nano-scale electronic and optical devices."

Prof. Mike Ashfold, lead researcher at Bristol commented:  "It is good to have two current EPSRC Portfolio Partnerships working so closely. Without such a bold initiative by EPSRC five years ago this sort of highly enabling research would not have been possible. We are very excited about the potential outcomes of this collaboration."

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI explained: "High quality research collaborations such as these take time to build and support received from EPSRC has encouraged this. We look forward to working closely with industry and forging new links in novel nano-material production associated with laser processing. The ATI is particularly strong in examining the potential for spinout activities in nanotechnology, as seen by its recent record and growing patent portfolio. We are confident this project will allow us to continue this trend."

Media enquiries: Stuart Miller, Press Office at the University of Surrey, Tel: 01483 689314 or E-mail: s.e.miller@surrey.ac.uk