From atoms to devices

Royce at Imperial has attracted a number of academic users from the College. Examples include Dr Shelly Conroy from the Department of Materials, who is investigating the growth and design of functional thin films that could be used in electronics, quantum materials and energy devices. In the same department, Dr Cindy Tseng is investigating how catalysts split water to produce hydrogen, an increasingly important way of storing energy from renewable sources. This should enable, for example, the design of efficient catalysts that rely less on rare elements such as iridium to function. And Dr Ryan Bower is using the Royce facility to develop his research into passively antibacterial surfaces for use in hospitals and high-contact public spaces.

Commercial users also come from the Imperial ecosystem, including startups like Puraffinity, Solena Materials, Beyond Blood Diagnostics, RFC Power, and LoMaRe Technologies. However, non-affiliated companies are also taking advantage of these facilities. Examples include Paragrapha graphene device that is a spin-off of work by the University of Cambridge and Amfikoa textile startup developing within the Royal College of Art.

“We offer training for start-up companies, which helps us meet the skills needs of the UK.”

Professor Neil Alford, Head of Atoms to Devices Research Area at Royce at Imperial

In addition to access to Royce at Imperial facilities, companies can also use Imperial Consultants, who oversee access agreements for trading partners, to gain additional expertise, for example to help analyse results or suggest next steps. This separate service connects Royce at Imperial with the wider expertise of the university

“The companies we work with fall into four broad categories: medical devices, sustainable materials manufacturing, batteries and catalysts, and electronics,” says Dr. Michael Leverentz, Royce’s research development manager at Imperial.

While some of these users will already be familiar with the techniques on offer, others may be new to them. Here, Royce provides essential advice and training. “We particularly provide training for start-up companies, for example in the use of scanning electron microscopy or deposition systems, which in itself is very valuable in helping to meet the UK’s upskilling needs highlighted in the national Semiconductor and Quantum strategies,” explains Professor Neil Alford, Atoms to Devices Research Area Lead at Royce at Imperial.

“Being at the centre makes it easier to establish contacts with our experts and other researchers and start discussions.”

Dr. Peter Petrov, Technology Platform Leader, Royce at Imperial

Companies that need more help, for example with designing their experiments, can work with Imperial researchers on a more collaborative basis. “Having a presence at the centre makes it easier to connect with our experts and other scientists and start that discussion,” says Dr Petrov.

While Royce supports commercial projects at Imperial, its facilities are set up for prototyping, not scale-up. “While we have wafer-scale capabilities, the devices we produce are typically smaller and we can’t produce them in large quantities,” Dr. Petrov explains. “But we can produce a lot of different proof-of-concept devices very quickly.”

This can help startups iterate on their devices and test them until they’re confident enough to start piloting. “We’re also reaching out to larger companies that already have production lines set up but want to innovate without shutting them down,” Dr. Leverentz adds. “So they can come to us to build a prototype and see if it has the desired properties before they decide to change their production lines.”