• Advanced structure determination facility to be established at Glasgow
    Professor Ross Forgan

News & Views

Advanced structure determination facility to be established at Glasgow

Feb 22 2023

“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” Ross Forgan

The University of Glasgow is to become one of the first research institutions in the world to acquire an electron diffractometer. As part of the £1.8 million support funding from UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), it will also host an advanced structure determination facility for crystal structures. 

Identification of atoms and their structure within molecules and materials help scientists understand how materials work and what they can be used for, information which can spur development in a wide range of scientific disciplines.

Crystal structures are mainly determined by X-ray diffraction but the use of beams of electrons makes it possible to analyse much smaller crystals than previously possible – materials down to 50 nanometres in size. Electron diffraction thus greatly expands the scope of materials which can be studied and this approach 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.

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.

“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,” Professor Forgan said. “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 diffractometer will become a vital part of the University’s growing College Analytical Suite, which provides access to a wide range of highly sophisticated equipment for use by researchers from University’s, independent institutes and commercial facilities.

Professor Forgan added: “Adding an electron diffractometer to the Analytical Suite will help strengthen the University’s position as a one-stop shop for material imaging, analysis and structural characterisation. I’m looking forward to being able to use it to support my own research, as well as seeing how it will push forward new research across a diverse set of disciplines.”

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

More information online


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