The Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester has recently acquired a new microscope that will considerably enhance understanding in both university and industrial research of why and how materials fail.
The Department of Engineering is just one of five Universities in the UK to have a new environmental scanning electron microscope - a Philips XL30 ESEM. This microscope is from a new generation of scanning electron microscopes which revolutionise the way in which we can examine materials.
The ESEM means that materials under scrutiny do not need a conductive coating to produce an image, as is the case with other scanning microscopes. Instead, water vapour in the chamber ionises and neutralises the electric charge which means that materials can even be imaged wet.
This means it is excellent for imaging materials such as ceramics, polymers (plastics), biological materials, geological samples, wet or oily objects, and for forensic examination of artefacts that need to be investigated by a number of experts. It also allows for a range of novel in-situ experiments to be performed, such as examining crack propagation through the material, and observing forming processes such as sintering as it occurs.
The new ESEM is also linked to an ISIS 310 Oxford Instruments X-Ray microanalysis system, which allows researchers to detect light elements such as carbon, an element which is found in advanced materials such as silicon carbide composite materials which have applications in aerospace. This allows researchers to detect the distribution of elements and phases in new materials or analyse impurities or inclusions which may have initiated failures.
The Leicester Department of Engineering is keen to develop its flourishing links with industry and the ESEM is available for use by external companies. Current projects with industry include a project working with Ilmor Engineering, who use the equipment to determine the failure mechanisms of components from Formula 1 racing engines.
Note to editors: Further information on the University of Leicester ESEM is available from Dr Sarah Hainsworth, Department of Engineering, tel 0116 252 5692, fax 0116 252 2525, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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