A Scottish University is to set to acquire a cutting-edge technology instrument, which will help to spur advances in a wide range of scientific disciplines.

The University of Glasgow has been awarded £1.8 million to support its acquisition of an electron diffractometer.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, has provided the funding.

Determination of crystal structures – the precise identification and arrangements of atoms within molecules and materials – can help scientists understand how materials work and what they can be used for, information which can spur advances in a wide range of scientific disciplines.

Currently, crystal structures are determined by X-ray diffraction, but by using beams of electrons to study materials instead, it is possible to analyse much smaller crystals than previously possible – materials down to 50 nanometres in size. 

Electron diffraction greatly expands the scope of materials for which scientists can determine crystal structures, and is expected to particularly impact research in the pharmaceutical and green energy industries.

Crucially, it can also deliver analytical results faster than alternative methods, offering structure determination of nanomaterials in less than an hour instead of weeks or months.

Until recently, electron diffraction was only possible through custom-built equipment or modification of electron microscopes, which limited their accessibility for general-purpose use.

Standalone electron diffractometers have only just become commercially available, with less than a dozen expected to be installed at research institutions around the world in 2023.

The University of Glasgow will be home to the third commercial electron diffractometer in the UK.

Diffractometer will become ‘vital’ part of university’s advanced research facility

Ross Forgan, Professor of supramolecular and materials chemistry, led the process to bring the equipment to the university, with support from experienced crystallographer Dr Claire Wilson, manager of the College of Science and Engineering Analytical Suite.

He said: “I’m grateful for EPSRC’s support to help bring this new electron diffractometer to Glasgow, which will put us in a unique position for an independent UK research university.

“Up until very recently, electron diffraction was out of reach for almost everyone. Having early access to these new dedicated machines, which offer advances of a couple of orders of magnitude over their x-ray equivalents, will be transformative.

“It will help to underpin breakthrough research across a wide range of fields, from chemical synthesis to new cancer therapies to the development of new catalysts for energy production which can support the global drive towards net-zero.”

The university says the diffractometer will become a vital part of its growing College Analytical Suite, which provides researchers at the university, colleagues at other institutes and commercial clients with access to a wide range of highly sophisticated equipment.

The university will shortly begin a tendering process to purchase the diffractometer. It is expected to be installed on campus early next year.