Universities want to help companies benefit from materials research of the future
How might Danish firms large and small make use of the world’s most powerful neutron and X-ray microscopes for product development? Researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) want to help them find out – for free.
Over the next six years, a triad of major international research facilities – MAX IV and ESS in Lund, Sweden and XFEL in Hamburg, Germany – will be online and ready to attain high new standards in materials research.
Accordingly, Danish companies will get the chance to raise their innovation and competitive standards to new highs in an wide range of industries including: electronics, medicine, chemistry, energy, nanotechnology, building materials, machines, packaging and foodstuffs.
Free offer for companies
Companies must be ready for the opportunity. Therefore, a number of researchers at Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen and DTU are now reaching out to a host of Danish companies that might be able to make use of the upcoming facilities with a free evaluation of, about and how doing so may benefit them.
The offer is mainly targeted towards small and medium-sized enterprises, and is specifically concerned with getting company representatives to come in and discuss how a given problem might be analysed using the umbrella of technologies available at the MAX IV, ESS and XFEL facilities. (see fact box)
Companies can have small material samples tested
As part of their enquiry, companies will be able to have small samples of materials tested in facilities currently used by university researchers for their own experiments and analyses. While smaller in scale and less powerful, these facilities are generally based on the same technologies of the exponentially larger facilities to come.
To optimize work, the three universities have divided tasks among themselves. The University of Copenhagen will primarily work with small-angle scattering, Aarhus University with crystallography, and DTU with imaging.
Matching companies with relevant research groups
Individual companies need not worry about finding the right researchers or the right technologies. The three universities work together through a collaborative partnership called LINX (Linking Industry to Neutrons and X-rays), whose secretariat can survey an individual company’s challenge and match the firm with a relevant research group.
Furthermore, researchers will refer companies to other universities if they find out that the challenge is best tackled elsewhere. This is a departure from universities seeing themselves as competitors with regards to private sector collaboration – and regardless of the fact that Aarhus University and DTU are collaborating to design, build and operate a 100 million kroner instrument at MAX IV, DanMAX, a cornerstone of the future research set to serve Danish companies.
A fulfilled company enquiry will result in the delivery of a preliminary report that the company can use to determine if it wishes to carry on with a shared project, along with one or more of the other LINX companies (and share results), or if it would like to pay for commissioned research itself. 12 companies have already engaged with LINX, with funding and labour. Other partners include the Central Denmark Region, Capital Region and Innovation Fund Denmark.
About the facilities
Each of the three facilities will be the most powerful of its type on the planet. As they take advantage of different techniques to achieve a common objective – to study how materials interact with X-rays or neutrons – they are somewhat like the “CERN of materials research”.
MAX IV Synchrotron
- The MAX IV Synchrotron in Lund, Sweden is the world’s most advanced and brightest X-ray source and dedicated to materials research. The MAX IV includes the DanMAX X-ray materials science beamline, equipped with two end stations, one for full field imaging, and one for powder diffraction. DanMAX is being built by DTU and Aarhus University, with an expected completion date in 2019.
- Imaging can be used to study the inner structure of materials, both under static conditions and over time.
- Powder diffraction can analyze molecules and chemical processes down to individual atoms.
European Spallation Source (ESS)
- The European Spallation Source (ESS) is the world’s most powerful neutron source and will neighbour MAX IV. The ESS will be ready for scientific and industrial use in 2023. Denmark is contributing funding for the ESS and Danish universities are actively participating in the development of three of the initial 15 scientific instruments to be supplied by neutrons from the ESS.
- The neutron source makes it possible to look at almost all materials without damaging them, as neutrons barely interact with the materials they penetrate.
- Neutron scattering is a useful tool in physics, chemistry, geology, biology and medicine because it can reveal both structures and dynamics in atoms and molecules.
European X-ray Free Electron Laser (E-XFEL)
- When completed later this year, the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (E-XFEL) in Hamburg will be the world’s most powerful x-ray laser. Denmark has contributed to the funding of the E-XFEL, and one of the beamlines, the Femtosecond X-ray Experiment (FXE), is a Danish design.
- With ultrashort X-ray flashes – up to 27,000 times a second – the average brilliance is ten-thousand times greater than that of the best conventional X-ray sources. The European XFEL will open up areas of research that were previously inaccessible.
- The X-ray laser will make it possible to film chemical reactions with unprecedented precision and resolution, making it possible to closely study atomic placement and transformation. This will pave the way for tailoring pharmaceuticals and materials with new properties.