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
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.