Friday October 7th 2016 saw the official opening of Chemistry department’s Soft Matter AnalyticaL Laboratory (SMALL).
The official opening event began with a series of guest lectures, exploring the laboratory techniques as well as the project’s history, followed by the official opening and tours of the new facilities by Dr. Mathew Derry, Mr Thomas Neal, and Dr. Oleksandr Mykhaylyk. After this the symposium continued with further guest and student lectures.
The SMALL lab is the result of a £2 million investment, part-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It marks the newest addition to the wide range of analytical techniques available at the University of Sheffield. The lab is equipped to perform rheology and Small Angle X-ray Scattering, SAXS (see below). It has at its heart the new SAXS instrument with a liquid gallium MetalJet X-ray source, built by the French company Xenocs. Thus, the University of Sheffield is now in possession of a powerful X-ray source, which is the first of its kind in the UK.
Although located within the department of chemistry, the facility is shared between the faculty of science (including the departments of physics and biology) and the faculty of engineering. One of the main focuses of the laboratory is in the investigation of polymers, which is a major research area of The University of Sheffield. The improved infrastructure will reduce the time needed to characterise these materials. Previously, measurements of this type were only possible at synchrotrons, access to which is a lengthy time-consuming process, not to mention the added travel time. However, the instrumentation will be applied to a much wider range of applications, including colloids and biological materials. For example, using SAXS, and a combination of other crystallographic techniques, protein structure and importantly shape can be deduced, in situ, meaning proteins can be analysed without having to move them into destructive media.
The project itself was completed in May 2016 with analysis of materials beginning immediately. The first results were published in September this year as a collaborative study by Drs. Mykhaylyk and Jones and Prof. Armes. (See here)
A Brief Introduction to SAXS.
The study of chemistry typically rests on the visualisation of matter which cannot be viewed by the naked eye. Instead we use techniques to provide information which can aid in the interpretation of what the structure is. Small Angle X-ray Scattering is one such method for measuring materials in the range of nanometers to submicrons.
In short, X-rays are directed at a sample and the angle at which this X-ray beam is scattered is then measured by a detector. This generates a scattering curve which is later interpreted to reveal information about the structure of the sample including their shape, electron density and internal morphology.