New facility boosts scientific research at UWS

Date: 05/05/2009

A sophisticated instrument that will help scientists further their research on projects as diverse as renewable energy and biological science has been purchased by the University of Western Sydney.

The Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (SIMS), which analyses the surface of materials, will be installed at the Hawkesbury campus. The unique facility will be used by researchers from across the disciplines at UWS and their colleagues from around Australia and internationally.

The SIMS can provide chemical analysis of surfaces, and just below the surface, of a range of materials with a sensitivity of up to parts per billion. It has the potential to be used in a diverse range of research including alternative energy production, forensic science, silicon chip manufacturing, geology, environmental science and biological science.

Professor John Ingleson, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic and Enterprise) says the SIMS represents the continued expansion of the University's investment in key, world-class, research infrastructure.

"The SIMS is a fantastic tool for scientific investigation. It's a versatile instrument that will greatly contribute to the research capacity and range at the University of Western Sydney," says Professor Ingleson.

"This will become a research facility of national significance. It will encourage even greater collaboration between UWS researchers and their colleagues in other institutions and those in industry."

The SIMS fires a beam of particles called ions at the test material. When the beam of particles strikes the surface it dislodges atoms and molecules from the test material. The instrument analyses the dislodged particles, or secondary ions, to build a very accurate reading of the material's chemical composition.

Dr Leigh Sheppard, from the UWS Solar Energy Technologies Research Group in the School of Natural Sciences will be one of many frequent users of the new SIMS facility.

The Solar Energy Technologies Research Group is developing a system to generate hydrogen - a potential alternative energy source - by exposing water and a specially designed titanium dioxide material to the sun. The research has the potential to create cheap, clean renewable energy.

"Understanding the surface chemistry of the uniquely engineered titanium material used in the solar hydrogen process is vital," says Dr Sheppard.

"When the material is immersed in water and exposed to sunlight, a chemical reaction splits the water molecules to release hydrogen. This reaction takes place at the material's surface, and is strongly influence by the narrow layer underneath. The SIMS provides us with a precise chemical profile of that surface and the region below , which can be anywhere from a few nanometers to a few microns thick.

"We can then go away and re-engineer that material, confident we are making the right changes.," he says.

The SIMS will be operational in mid 2009.



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Kristy Gleeson
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