JOHN HILL talks to a university professor involved with a new and specialised national X-ray service.
THERE are times when Professor Peter Cumpson probably feels like the kid with his hand up at the back of the room, desperate to answer a question that has the rest of the class stumped.
“It can be very frustrating for people in our field,” he says.
“If an industry that’s facing a problem where two components that are glued together start falling apart, it often tries lots of different formulations to try to work out what’s happening.
“I often think that if they’d scraped off some of the material and come to me six months earlier, I could have done a quick analysis and probably told them what was going on.”
Prof Cumpson is part of Newcastle University’s team at the School of Mechanical and Systems Engineering.
He’s also set to oversee a new service that will see all sorts of state-of-the-art materials wing their way up to the North East.
Newcastle University has been selected as the UK provider of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s National X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) service, which will be located in the university’s nanoLAB.
The new centre will be opened today by Dave Delpy, the chief executive of the EPSRC, and is part-funded by outgoing regional development agency One North East.
Cumpson himself is excited about the potential for XPS, which has been in use for several decades but is only just bedding in to a number of new sectors.
“My enthusiasm for this is well-justified,” he says.
“There are so many academic and industrial areas that could benefit. Rather than spend half a year working on what may be going on, they can use this to say exactly what’s happening.”
But what exactly does XPS do, and why would this be of interest to people as diverse as UK academics, dishwashing liquid makers, healthcare providers and hard-drive manufacturers?
Basically, XPS is an unambiguous way of finding out exactly what’s on the surface of a material.
While what’s on the inside of a material is important, what’s right on the top will influence how it reacts with other materials, and that has repercussions in all sorts of areas.