Imperial launches new research facility to study advanced materials

04 Apr 2023 | Network Updates | Update from Imperial College London
These updates are republished press releases and communications from members of the Science|Business Network

Imperial’s new Henry Royce Institute (Royce) Facility has launched to identify challenges and stimulate innovation in advanced materials research.

The work will generate new materials for quantum technologies, materials for the energy transition, healthcare and information technologies. 

Located in the Sir Michael Uren Hub Building at Imperial’s White City campus, the facility offers state of the art equipment to support new research on advanced materials. Supported by the Henry Royce Institute, the facility forms part of the Royce “Atoms to Devices” theme and will deliver innovation at every stage of fabrication, taking advanced materials from their building-block atoms to fully functional devices. 

The facility welcomes collaborators from across industry and academia, offering use of its pioneering equipment and technical expertise.  

Advanced materials like biomaterials, smart materials and nano-engineered materials possess unique properties, enabling superior performance to their traditional counterparts and are critical in a wide range of industries including health, transport, energy, electronics and utilities. 

Examples include single-molecule sensors that can aid drug development and medical diagnosis, more efficient data storage, bespoke textiles for fashion and medical applications, and new ways to deliver vaccines without using cold storage.

Facility director Professor Neil Alford, from Imperial's Department of Materials, said: “The Royce facility at Imperial is now open for business. With our technical expertise, state of the art equipment and collaborative spirit, we look forward to fostering a space that drives even more innovation and materials research at White City. The launch of this pioneering hub of activity will foster the capability to make, test and characterise the materials, components and systems of the future.” 

Professor Sandrine Heutz, Head of Imperial’s Department of Materials, said: “Most people probably don't give much thought to all the materials that make our lives possible - whether that's the semiconductors powering our phones and tablets, or the fuel cells and solar panels driving the transition to zero pollution.  

“Improving the materials we use can make a huge difference to the way we produce clean energy, manufacture medicines and vaccines, boost the efficiency of transport, and even communicate with one another.” 

The facilities will specialise in the generation of thin films for sensors and other electronic devices, patterning and milling, electrical testing, and understanding the chemical and physical properties of advanced materials.  

Innovations already in development at the facility include antimicrobial surfaces on which bacteria and viruses can’t grow, and mRNA vaccines that can be kept at room temperature so they can be more easily stored in resource-limited settings.

Working in collaboration 

Commercial companies working at the facility include ChronosDXParagrafPuraffinitySolena Materials & LoMaRe Technologies.  

ChronosDX creates precise, low-cost technologies to detect biomarkers – molecules in body fluids that can be used to diagnose or track diseases. By being able to detect single molecules, their platform can monitor multiple biomarkers of interest in a single sample, allowing specific disease detection and the possibility of testing potential new drugs. 

LoMaRe Technologies Limited creates materials for more efficient low-power electronics, for use in memory, data storage and other processes that could make computers and mobile phones more energy efficient. 

Solena Materials uses machine learning and automation to customise materials for different applications, from fashion to medical fabrics. Their materials use protein-based fibres, making each design biodegradable and sustainable where they replace nature-derived materials like silk and petrochemical-based materials. 

Each of these companies uses the technology available at the Royce to characterise, manufacture, and test their products. 

The Royce at Imperial team has been instrumental in driving forward an initiative called Materials for Quantum, which develops materials for quantum applications and has resulted in an EPSRC funded Network. The team has also partnered with Royce Partners University of Manchester and the University of Leeds, to develop the Nanoscale Advanced Materials Engineering (NAME) EPSRC Programme Grant, which aims to revolutionise the design and delivery of functionality on demand at the nanoscale within advanced materials. 

Imperial College London is a Partner of the Henry Royce Institute, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

The Institute supports world-recognised excellence in UK materials research, accelerating commercial exploitation of innovations and delivering positive economic and societal impact for the UK.

Professor David Knowles, Royce CEO said: “These fantastic new laboratories demonstrate the depth of the Partnership which Royce embodies, stretching around the UK and providing a joined-up framework that delivers beyond the capabilities of individual Institutes and Imperial College London has a unique place in this UK-wide alliance 

“We’re delighted to see the official launch of this major new facility, which is open to all in academia and industry and is dedicated to materials innovation. The important work that happens here and around all the Royce Partners underpins the development of the innovative technologies we need to meet the big challenges we face – from the transition to net zero to addressing pressing global healthcare needs.” 

The Institute operates as a hub and spoke model, with the hub at The University of Manchester and spokes at the founding partners. The Royce partners include the universities of SheffieldLeedsLiverpoolCambridgeOxford and Imperial College London, as well as UK Atomic Energy Authority and National Nuclear Laboratory

This article was first published on 30 March by Imperial College London.

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