Pioneering a new ion beam for secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), our research has revolutionised analysis of organic materials. Working with commercial partners, we helped to develop new ion beam and mass spectrometer systems that have achieved combined global sales in the tens of millions of pounds.
Scientists often analyse the surface chemistry of solids using a technique called secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS). Prior to our research molecular information was only available from 1% of the surface, due to the aggressive nature of the interaction of atomic ion beams with the sample. This severely limited capabilities for molecular imaging and applications in biology and molecular materials in general.
Bucking the trend
Researchers from the Surface Analysis Research Centre developed a much gentler primary ion beam based on buckminsterfullerene (C60). In collaboration with the ion beam technology company Ionoptika Ltd, we incorporated the C60 positive ion beam into a commercial system, now protected with three patents.
Since 2008, Ionoptika has sold 70 ion beam units worth over £2 million. The product has created five new jobs in the company and established Ionoptika as a world-leading manufacturer and supplier of C60 ion beam systems.
The C60 ion beam technology was also transferred at an early stage to Ulvac-Phi, a Japanese manufacturer of SIMS instruments. With this competitive advantage in the organic surface analysis market, the company has enjoyed new instrument sales totalling several tens of millions of pounds.
These novel instruments sparked immediate interest from specialist researchers and the medical community. C60 ionic bombardment resulted in new, enhanced analysis protocols adopted across many sectors including the semiconductor, chemical, biotechnology, automobile and pharmaceutical industries, in addition to governmental and academic research labs.
The C60 ion beam has triggered a paradigm shift in research laboratories and led to a new field of depth profiling for organic materials. All other manufacturers of SIMS instruments for molecular analysis have integrated C60 ion beams into their systems; consequently almost every SIMS laboratory in the world now uses C60 ion beam analysis.