New Tomography Centre planned for Sheffield.

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering has recently been awarded a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which will enable it to invest in a new state-of-the-art high resolution 3D X-ray microscope system.

This new facility will immediately benefit the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, as well as the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health.

mouseThe X-ray microscope system uses computed tomography to build up images of the internal features of materials and structures being examined using X-rays and high-resolution detectors without sectioning the samples. As well as internal structures, this system can detect differences in material microstructure, composition and defects within samples, which will enable scientists to improve materials design, manufacturing processes and component lifetimes.

The new Tomography Facility will complement desktop micro computed tomography systems already located in the Medical School, used principally for the examination of bone structures, but has greater power and higher resolution, thereby extending the range of applications across engineering, manufacturing and medical disciplines. It has the capability to resolve features less than 500nm in size (1 one-hundredth of a human hair), and can examine a broad spectrum of materials including batteries, bones, metals and ceramics.

The new X-ray microscope system will offer unique multi-parameter in situ/in operando environmental testing, with options for thermal, load, liquid and electrical-bias environments to examine the dynamic 3D response of materials to changes in local environment. The new microscope will also complement existing light, electron and ion microscopy facilities within the Faculties of Engineering and Science, enabling correlative materials characterisation across the nano-micro-macro length-scales, and will generate critical-mass in tomography expertise.

The EPSRC-funded facility will be open to both internal and external users, to allow the wider UK academic and industrial community to investigate and better characterise materials used in important UK materials sectors such as:

  • Advanced 3D Manufacturing: the new system will enable the 3D accuracy of AM processes to be validated to sub-micron level, providing rapid, quantitative feedback on design versus processing tolerance of prototypes, and experimental input into CAD designs.
  • Energy & Environmental Systems: the system will underpin energy storage research programmes, including those funded through the Faraday Institution, by investigating the 3D structure of battery and fuel cell systems
  • Structural Integrity, Composites & Tribology: mechanisms of strength, durability and failure can be quantified in multi-phase composites, porous materials and biomaterials
  • Biological Tissues & Biomaterials: the new system will give us unparalleled capability to investigate mineralised tissues, tooth mineral, soft tissues and advanced biomedical materials

Professor Beverley Inkson, Principal Investigator and Professor of Nanostructured Materials at the University of Sheffield, said: “We are creating a new centre for Tomography here at the University, with a new world-class X-ray Tomography Microscope with environmental testing. As well as supporting world-leading research within Engineering, Science and Medicine, the facilities will be made available for regional businesses to use in their research and development programmes.

“The work carried out in the centre will push the boundaries of materials characterisation and lead to improvements in medical devices and prosthetics, improved batteries, electronics and energy storage, and more resilient metals, polymers, ceramics and construction materials.

“We’ll also be educating the next generation of scientists and engineers, giving them experience of technology that will have a significant impact on tomorrow’s materials.”

Dr Enrico Dall’Ara from the Insigneo Institute for in silico medicine and the Department of Oncology and Metabolism said: “The facility will be fundamental to push forward our research on biomaterials and biological tissues at the University of Sheffield, allowing us to acquire 3D tomograms with similar resolution as those obtained at the Synchrotron and, combined with in situ mechanical testing and the Digital Volume Correlation approach developed in Insigneo, will provide a great framework to validate and improve the computational models that we develop to enhance the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.”

The new Tomography Centre represents an investment of £1.5m with funding coming from the EPSRC and the University, and is anticipated to be up and running by late spring 2020.