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New £2 million UK nanotechnology laboratory is opened

AlphaGalileo--A new £2 million laboratory that will place the University of Bath at the centre of nanotechnology research was formally opened on Wednesday (June 9).

Scientists using the new nanofabrication centre can create structures that are only a few hundred atoms in size, or about a millionth of a millimetre, opening up important areas of research in physics.

The advantage of working at such a small scale is that the structures can be purpose-built in novel ways that are not found in nature. This could be the basis of a new generation of more powerful computers, improved medical devices and cheaper lighting that could be in everyday use in the next few years.

The building itself was put up in the 1960s but was converted in January this year at a cost of just over £1 million, using a £750,000 grant from the Government’s Science Research Investment Fund and the remainder from the Royal Society-Wolfson Foundation and the University of Bath.

The laboratory’s equipment, which includes devices for electron beam lithography and atomic force microscopy, cost around £1 million.

The centre will be formally opened by Dr Julia King, Chief Executive of the Institute of Physics, with a buffet lunch for 80 guests.

The work that will be furthered by the new centre includes Professor Wang-Nang Wang’s research into more efficient forms of light from light emitting diodes which can produce light very similar to natural sunlight and reduce the cost of lighting.
It also includes research by Professor Simon Bending into the use of nanotechnology to make advanced superconducting materials for applications in energy-efficient transportation and power transmission, as well as magnetic materials which could greatly increase the data storage capacity of computers.
Nanotechnology requires specialised laboratory facilities for research and development. These facilities include state-of-the-art "clean rooms" – laboratories in which the air is constantly filtered to remove minute dust particles. Other factors, such as temperature, humidity and vibration, must also be scrupulously controlled. Because the research is conducted on such a small scale, even the slightest increase in temperature or the smallest vibration might ruin an experiment.
“This centre will place the University of Bath at the forefront of what is an exciting field of research that could fundamentally change many areas of our lives,” said Professor John Davies, Head of the Physics Department at the University of Bath.
“The ability to build structures of such a small size will allow us to greatly increase the power of devices such as computers.

“At such small sizes, the structure’s behaviour become dominated by quantum physics, and many strange and novel phenomena can be observed.
“Such phenomena are of fundamental scientific interest and can also be exploited for technological applications.”

The centre will be named in honour of Professor David Bullett, who was head of the Physics Department at the University from 1990 until 2000, just after he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Professor Bullett died in July 2001, at the age of 51.

Professor Bullett was a brilliant scientist, taking a first at Cambridge and working in America and Cambridge until starting at Bath in 1979 as a lecturer, working mainly in the field of the theory of solid state physics.

He was a keen opera fan, mountain climber and walker, and after the diagnosis of his tumour he made a point of climbing all his favourite mountains in the High Sierras and Colorado in the US and walking in Spain and Thailand for the last time.
“He made a big contribution in raising the profile of the university and the department during his ten years as head,” said a colleague and friend, Professor David Bird, who knew him for 20 years.

“The quality of the department went up and up, and he brought in excellent people from outside as well, so the department thrived under his leadership. David had a dry sense of humour and a great sense of fun, as well as an ability to be an effective leader.”

The laboratory was built in part by George & Harding, a family owned construction business, established in 1863, specialising primarily in the hotel, food, prison and education sectors. George & Harding has been involved with the University of Bath for over three years and worked on the laboratory for three months. The clean rooms were built by Engineering Services Management Ltd, of Chelmsford.


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