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Emerging industries metrology at the crossroads of photonics and nanotechnology

Published: 15 October 2020
ORC team works to deliver transformational impact on optical metrology

A new multi-million pound research programme including scientists from the Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics will develop nanoscale optical measurement technologies for the smart manufacturing revolution.

The UK research collaboration will overcome fundamental barriers to the use of optical measurement techniques in 'Industry 4.0' metrology applications and emerging nanotechnologies.

Professor Nikolay Zheludev, Professor Kevin MacDonald, Dr Eric Plum and Dr Bruce Ou from the Zepler Institute's Nanophotonics and Metamaterials Group will spearhead Southampton's contribution to the £5.5 million programme, which is being led by Professor Dame Xiangqian Jiang from the University of Huddersfield's Centre for Precision Technologies.

Optical metrology plays a vital role in a wide array of important research areas and applications, from basic science discovery to material processing, medicine, semiconductor chip fabrication, healthcare, energy, manufacturing and engineering.

Today's metrology instruments are normally large, heavy structures that require a well-stabilised environment to maintain accuracy, stability and functionality. These physical and functional features prevent optical metrology from moving into future smart and autonomous applications across many sectors.

The new programme will translate the latest advances in nanophotonics, plasmonics and metamaterials research, in which the Zepler Institute has played an internationally-leading role, into future-ready applications. This will have a transformational impact on optical metrology by enabling cheaper, smarter and much more compact solutions.

Professor Zheludev, Deputy Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre, says: "Using new nanophotonic components and concepts, we will develop metrology tools and measurement techniques that can be deployed in the real-world and will explore novel metrology concepts for nanotechnology.

"These advances will be vital to support the high-value manufacturing sector in the UK. The impact of this work, however, will be felt across a far broader range of disciplines, as size and weight are significant issues in, for example, instrumentation for space science, optical instrumentation for surgical applications, and robotic arm-mounted instruments."

Ground-breaking ideas proposed in the project include an 'optical ruler' for measurements with potentially sub-nm resolution on the tip of an optical fibre and a new approach to ‘motion imaging’ based upon the scanning electron microscopy platform and delivers atomic level resolution.

The work is supported by project partners including major metrology instrumentation companies Taylor Hobson and Renishaw, as well as QinetiQ, Qioptiq, and academic partners at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

The programme has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will run until January 2026.

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