Launch of unique facility boosts research in Western Sydney

Date: 28/07/2009

A new leading edge research facility to help scientists develop renewable energies, new materials and better understand the natural world will be opened by The Hon. Jodi McKay MP, Minister for Science and Medical Research, at the University of Western Sydney later today.

The Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (SIMS), which analyses the surface chemical composition of materials, has been recently installed at the Hawkesbury campus.

Professor Janice Reid, UWS Vice-Chancellor, says the unique instrument is a key milestone in the University's strategy to invest in world-class research infrastructure.

"The new SIMS facility will enhance a number of research initiatives currently underway within the University of Western Sydney, including solar materials research," says Professor Reid.

"The unique facility will also bring new opportunities for research collaborations with colleagues from other institutions and from industry."

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.

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 the first to use 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 specially designed titanium dioxide based materials to the sun. The research has the potential to create cheap, clean renewable energy.

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

"A chemical reaction at the material's surface, triggered when it is immersed in water and exposed to sunlight, splits the water molecules to release hydrogen. The reaction is also strongly influenced by the narrow layer underneath the material's surface.

"The SIMS provides a precise chemical profile of that surface and the region just below, which can be anywhere from a few nanometers to a few microns thick," he says.

"We can use this information to confidently re-engineer the material to refine the chemical reaction and ultimately improve the material's efficiency in producing hydrogen and purified water," says Dr Sheppard.

For further details on the SIMS or to inquire about accessing the facility for research visit:

WHAT: Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer - Launch (Media Photo Opportunity & Tour)
WHEN: 15:00hrs, Tuesday 28 July 2009
WHERE: Building M8, University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury campus, Londonderry Road, Richmond



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