Case studies

Radiation Mapping Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) (Professor T Scott)

Following the events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the Interface Analysis Centre has been developing an unmanned aerial system capable of mapping radiation in regions inaccessible to humans.

Safe Storage of Nuclear Waste (Dr R Springell)

One of the most important challenges to face the commercial nuclear industry is the safe long-term storage of fuels and waste products. Understanding how the surfaces of these materials behave in their 'final' resting place is then of fundamental importance.

We have at the University of Bristol a unique thin film deposition chamber that allows us to 'grow' single crystals of uranium and its compounds, and engineer surfaces and interfaces to mimic those found in the storage environment.

With the rise of large national facilities, such as the ISIS neutron spallation source and the Diamond Light Source, x-ray synchrotron, we can now begin to probe the behaviour of nuclear surfaces and interfaces on an unprecedented scale.

Low-Cost Nanocomposites for Next Generation Water Filtration (Dr Sarah Tesh)

Not everyone has access to safe, clean drinking water; according to the WHO, that number is 1 in 6. Water is contaminated from the influence of both natural and man-made influences, for example, Nepal has contamination from naturally weathered arsenic, whereas many places suffer from poor sanitation, agricultural and industrial waste.

Low Cost Nanocomposites for Next Generation Water Filtration (Sarah Tesh) (PDF, 4,041kB)

Solving a Massive Problem with a Minuscule Solution (Professor T Scott)

Clean water is critical for sustaining human life. But the provision of clean water is increasingly difficult due to pollution, industrialisation and population growth, particularly in the developing world.

However, there is a tiny solution to this enormous problem: nanotechnology. Engineered nanomaterials, such as those being developed at the IAC, could be the key that unlocks a generation of cheaper, faster and better water treatments.

Environmentally-compatible nanoscale materials, such as nanotubes or nanoparticles, prove highly effective at cleaning up polluted groundwater. Introducing these minuscule, water-suspended cleaning agents – far smaller than bacteria at less than 100 nm in size – into polluted aquifers can destroy or immobilise a wide range of toxic pollutants.

Recent ground-breaking work and complementary materials analysis at the IAC has demonstrated how vacuum heat treatments improve the environmental longevity and reactivity of metallic iron nanoparticles for water treatment.

While these iron nanoparticles have yet to be deployed in the UK or the developing world, the IAC, in collaboration with the Nanoscience and Quantum Information (NSQI) centre, aims to spearhead further development of this technology and play an active role in UK commercialisation.

Micro-Crystals, Macro-Solutions (Professor G Allen)

Global cement manufacture accounts for five percent of all the carbon dioxide generated worldwide. Using lime as a replacement for cement significantly reduces this CO2 due to its lower kilning temperature, which also makes lime an ideal low tech material for the developing world.

The process by which lime sets hard involves a carbonation reaction through which atmospheric CO2 is absorbed and fixed into limestone, and this “carbon storage” further enhances lime's environmental credentials.

However, in conventional types of cement and concretes other factors such as porosity, humidity and liquid water creep in to limit the rate of reaction and stop the CO2 getting to where it needs to be - fixed in limestone.

In order to maximise the rate of carbonation, the reaction needs to be understood, and the best location to study it is on the lime crystals themselves by investigating the interfacial reaction at a microstructural level.

IAC researchers, using high magnifications, can see the CO2 “in real time” as it is converted into limestone in situ. When these surface reactions are understood, then the optimum conditions for carbonation will be within reach.

All that remains it to tailor the porosity to get the reactants in the right place, but as this porosity is in direct proportion to particle size, it can be controlled! By maximising the rate of this reaction, lime can be engineered to set harder and faster, creating a structural material that literally soaks up CO2.

Spectroscopy Where the Sun Don’t Shine (Dr J Day)

In 1928, Indian physicist Chandrasekhara Raman won a Nobel prize for his discovery that light can undergo a weak but perceptible colour change when scattered by matter. The resulting Raman spectrum is characteristic of the chemical bonds involved and can distinguish between such diverse substances as diamond and graphite or cancerous and healthy tissue.

The IAC is involved in several projects to develop miniature Raman probes for industrial and medical applications where other forms of analysis are not possible, eg cancer of the oesophagus, the fastest growing incidence of any cancer in the Western world and frequently associated with chronic heartburn, which may change the structure of the oesophageal wall. The subtle differences in the Raman spectra of cancerous and healthy tissue mean that an early, automated diagnosis of oesophageal cancer is a real possibility.

However, the proportion of light that undergoes Raman scattering is as low as one part in a billion, and the optical equipment needed to collect the light may generate Raman signatures much stronger than those of cancer. It is therefore vital to design miniature probes with multiple filters and lenses as close as possible to the point of analysis to primarily measure only the tissue's signal. Since fibre optics have dimensions similar to those of human hair, the precision required is far greater than that normally achieved by conventional engineering.

In collaboration with Gloucester Royal Hospital (GRH), Renishaw and KeyMed Olympus, the IAC uses semiconductor fabrication facilities within the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering to make probes small enough to fit inside medical endoscopes. Work at GRH has demonstrated that the spectra produced in just 2 seconds can detect cancerous tissue with an accuracy similar to that of trained pathologists looking at biopsies in the laboratory. Work is continuing to make the probe suitable for in-vivo studies so that live trials can begin.

Analysis in Support of International Oil and Gas Industries

Our analysis techniques are routinely applied to the investigation of a wide range of acute and chronic issues within the oil and gas sector. These studies range between simply identifying the composition of deposits and residues extracted from gas pipework and boiler systems - for both troubleshooting and health & safety requirements - to comprehensive work programmes targeting solutions to full-scale plant problems.

  • We investigate issues affecting cooling water systems, eg pitting corrosion, fouling, deposition, algae growth and microbial proliferation.
  • We accept liquid crude oil samples for testing against recognised standards and solid specimens for materials analysis.
  • We apply our analysis tools to reservoir rock samples and model compounds.
  • We have the background and capability to analyse damaged turbine blades.
  • We provide bespoke one- and two-week courses, tailored to your needs, in corrosion science and the analytical approaches used for both laboratory and in-situ measurement of plant component degradation.
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