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Electron microscope

Electron Microscopy and Materials Analysis Research Group


Scientists began to study the arrangements of atoms within matter at the end of the 19th century and, from the middle of the 20th century onwards, their tools have included increasingly powerful microscopes with which the actual spatial arrangements of atoms can be observed. This has a very significant impact on our understanding of the behaviour of solids (metals, semiconductors and insulators) whose properties are often heavily influenced by various types of defect.

The Electron Microscopy and Materials Analysis group (EMMA) was set up in 2011 by Professor Stephen Donnelly around the use of electron microscopy to study the interaction of energetic particles with matter. With relevance to materials for space, the semiconductor industry and particularly to the nuclear industry, this research informs decisions regarding the materials used in the current and next generation of fission and fusion reactors and waste encapsulation and storage.

Energy Applications

Current nuclear reactors (fission reactors) have to withstand not only bombardment with energetic neutrons but also high temperatures, and future reactors will operate at even higher temperatures and be subjected to greater fluxes of neutrons. The proposed fusion reactor, that harnesses reactions similar to those producing the Sun’s energy, will also have components subjected to similar extreme conditions. The work of EMMA research group on the choice and design of appropriate materials for reactor components is therefore of crucial importance.

Although concerned with the materials from which reactors are constructed, the research does not involve the handling of radioactive materials or actual neutron bombardment. Instead, ion beams are used to simulate the effects that neutrons have on materials without inducing radioactivity. The primary area of interest is the extent to which the properties of solids are changed by exposure to fluxes of energetic particles. On impacting with various solids, such particles may give rise to a variety of defects which usually have detrimental effects (but sometimes can have beneficial ones) on the mechanical, electrical, optical and even magnetic properties of the solids.

This work is made possible by a unique instruments, developed by Professor Donnelly and his team, consisting of transmission electron microscopes (TEMs) connected to ion accelerators – named the Microscopes and Ion Accelerators for Materials Investigations (MIAMI) facilities.

Latest News

Professor awarded for lifetime achievements with top award

This story published on Tuesday 7 July 2015
Professor John Colligon will receive the British Vacuum Council’s Senior Prize for 2015 and the John Yarwood Medal

£850k to look at radiation damage in nanoporous nuclear materials

This story published on Friday 1 May 2015
“...a solution is to dispel defects and gas atoms so that the material is able to recover from the damage – in effect, repair itself...”

£3.5 million grant will create major nuclear research facility

This story published on Wednesday 15 April 2015
EPSRC grant of £3.5 million will create world-leading research for the analysis of nuclear materials and the development of space technology

£1m ensures the safety of the next generation of nuclear reactors

This story published on Monday 19 January 2015
“...the findings of the project will be relevant to the Generation III+ reactors soon to be constructed in the UK...”

For more EMMA news visit our news page

Last updated Wednesday 8 March 2017
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