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From atoms to devices

From atoms to devices

Royce at Imperial has attracted many academic users from within the College. Examples include Dr Shelly Conroy in the Department of Materials, who is investigating the growth and design of functional thin films that could be used in electronics, quantum materials and energy devices. From the same department, Dr Cindy Tseng is investigating how catalysts split water to make hydrogen, an increasingly important means of storing energy from renewable sources. This should make it possible, for example, to design effective catalysts that rely less on rare elements such as iridium to function. And Dr Ryan Bower is using the Royce facility to advance his research on passively antimicrobial surfaces for use in hospitals and high-contact public spaces.

Commercial users have also come from within the Imperial ecosystem, including startups such as Puraffinity, Solena Materials, Beyond Blood Diagnostics, RFC Power and LoMaRe Technologies. But unconnected companies are also making use of the facilities. Examples include Paragrapha graphene device spinout from the University of Cambridge, and Amphicoa textile startup developing through the Royal College of Art.

“We provide training for start-up companies, and that helps to address the UK’s up-skilling needs.”

Professor Neil Alford, Atoms to Devices Research Area Lead for Royce at Imperial

In addition to accessing the facilities at Royce at Imperial, companies can also use Imperial Consultants, which oversees access contracts for commercial partners, to source additional expertise, for example to help analyse the results produced or to suggest next steps. This separate service links Royce at Imperial with the university’s wider expertise

“The companies we have been working with fall into four broad categories: medical devices; sustainable material production; batteries and catalysts; and electronics,” says Dr Michael Leverentz, the Research Development Manager for Royce at Imperial.

While some of these users are already familiar with the techniques on offer, others may be coming to them for the first time. In this case, Royce provides the necessary advice and training. “In particular, we provide training for start-up companies, for example in how to use scanning electron microscopy or deposition systems, and that in itself is quite valuable, helping to address the up-skilling needs of the UK highlighted in both the Semiconductor and Quantum national strategies,” explains Professor Neil Alford, Atoms to Devices Research Area Lead for Royce at Imperial.

“Being present in the facility makes it easy to make contact with our experts and other academics, and start that discussion.”

Dr Peter Petrov, Technology Platform Lead, Royce at Imperial

Companies that need more help, for example in designing their experiments, can set up additional collaborations with researchers at Imperial. “Being present in the facility makes it easy to make contact with our experts and other academics, and start that discussion,” says Dr Petrov.

While Royce at Imperial supports commercial projects, its facilities are set up for prototyping rather than scale-up. “Although we have wafer-scale capability, the devices we make are usually smaller, and we cannot make lots of them,” Dr Petrov explains. “But we can make, very quickly, a lot of different proof-of-principle devices.”

That can help startups make iterations of their devices and test them, until they are confident enough to start piloting. “We also get some larger companies who already have production lines set up, but who want to innovate without taking those lines down,” adds Dr Leverentz. “So, they can come to us to create a prototype, and determine if it has the desired properties before deciding to alter their production lines.”