Welcome to the Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory

NPRL Banner

The Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory was established in 1994 - the first centre for nanoscience in the UK - and formally opened in the Physics East building in May 1996 by Professor Sir John Cadogan FRS. The second phase of the Lab, the Nanoscale Science Facility, was opened in May 2004 by Professor Sir Michael Pepper FRS.

The NPRL now encompasses a flourishing range of both fundamental and applied research programs. An interdisciplinary and international approach is central to the ethos of the Lab. Collaborations with other departments (Chemistry, Environmental Research, etc) are enhanced by their proximity on campus, while the Lab sustains international research collaborations with a whole series of partners in Europe and worldwide.

The NPRL is also committed to the transfer of new concepts and technological innovations from the research lab into industry, including our spin-out companies, creating new opportunities for sustainable economic development.

Recent News


Scientists visualise quantum behaviour of hot electrons for first time
30 September 2016

Such was the title of the University of Birmingham’s Press Release on Wednesday (28 Sept) to accompany the publication of NPRL’s latest paper in Nature Communications, another result of our very fruitful collaboration with Bath. The paper demonstrates coherent expansion of the wavefunction, over a diameter of 15nm at room temperature, when hot electrons are injected into the Si(111)-7x7 surface from an STM tip. Beyond that range the transport is diffusive, as shown in last year’s Nature Comms. The transport of the charge carriers was visualised by the desorption of probe toluene molecules from the surface (which occurs due to electron capture/scattering). As Richard explained in the Press Release: “When an electron is captured by a molecule of toluene, we see the molecule lift off from the surface – imagine the Apollo lander leaving the moon’s surface. By comparing before and after images of the surface we measure the pattern of these molecular launch sites and reveal the behaviour of electrons in a manner not possible before. These findings are, crucially, undertaken at room temperature. They show that the quantum behaviour of electrons which is easily accessible at close to absolute zero temperature (-273°C!) persist under the more balmy conditions of room temperature and over a “large” 15 nanometre scale. T hese findings suggest future atomic-scale quantum devices could work without the need for a tank of liquid helium coolant.” The video shown is a computer simulation of the expansion of the wavefunction. The original paper is here. Richard likes to compare the mechanism with the inflation model of the Big Bang… quantum inflation on the Nanoscale?


Appointment as Visiting Professor in China
19 August 2016

NPRL News is delighted to announce the appointment of Quanmin Guo as Visiting Professor in the School of Physics and Information Technology at Shaanxi Normal University, Xi’an (home of the famous Terracotta Warriors!). Quanmin will contribute to the setting up of a new Low-dimensional Condensed Matter Physics Research Laboratory in collaboration with Prof Jianzhi Gao and Prof Feng Yin (both NPRL Alumni!). The picture shows Vice President of the University, Prof. Zupei Yang, presenting the official letter of appointment to Quanmin today. Also present was vice president of Tsinghua University, Prof Qikun Xue (recently awarded the Future Science and Technology Prize of China). The Ceremony followed a three-day Surface Science Forum at the University, which included speakers from the Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Peking University, amongst many others, as well as exhibitors from several surface science companies. Thus the reach of NPRL continues to extend! Many congratulations, Quanmin!

Launch of major European project on catalysis
21 June 2016

The kick-off meeting of the European R&D project “CritCat” was held in Brussels today. CritCat - full name “Towards Replacement of Critical Catalyst Materials by Improved Nanoparticle Control and Rational Design” - is a three-year Horizon 2020 project led by Jaakko Akola of Tampere University of Technology (TUT), which aims to lay a scientific foundation for the replacement or reduced use of critical metals such as Platinum, which are extensively employed in catalysis, with more earth-abundant materials whose functionality depends on, or is tuned by, nanoscale structure control. Unusually, and excitingly, the project is “theory-led”, i.e., the principal role of the experimental groups such as the NPRL is to test and validate the predictions arising from theoretical modelling of novel candidate catalysts. The work of the NPRL will focus on the doping with base metals, and characterisation, of size-selected Pt and MoS2 clusters. The project has 9 partners including TUT and Birmingham; also from the UK are the National Physical Lab (Andy Wain) and Nanolayers Research Computing Ltd (David Gao).


From Plasmons to Plankton - First Issue of Advances in Physics: X
20 April 2016

The first full issue of the new journal Advances in Physics: X is now online! Conceived by Richard, who is the founding Editor-in-Chief, APX aims to demonstrate the intellectual connections between different branches of physics and across (hence the “X”) the boundaries of physics with other disciplines, thus illustrating the underpinning importance of physics to a wide spectrum of modern science and technology. APX is published by Taylor and Francis and belongs to a family of journals which includes the Philosophical Magazine (1798-) and Advances in Physics (1952-). APX is a fully open access (and purely electronic) journal, which publishes concise review articles invited by its 22 Editors. Four issues are planned for 2016, rising to six in 2017. Here is the link to Richard’s opening editorial “From Plasmons to Plankton – the Wonderful World of Physics”.

The Year of the MACS
4 April 2016

Five years after the original idea expressed in our first patent application, 2016 sees the publication of the first papers on the Matrix Assembly Cluster Source (MACS), designed to scale-up by orders of magnitude the available flux of clusters, and thus enable applications in catalysis, theranostics, photonics, etc. The first paper, in the Review of Scientific Instruments, reports the concept of the MACS and proof of principle experiments at a flux equivalent to a few nanoAmps (as a reference the magnetron cluster source typically generates about 0.1 nanoAmps). The second paper, in the Faraday Discussions of the RSC, reports a further scale-up of flux to around 100 nanoAmps, and considers the prospects for going further. This paper, presented by Richard at the Faraday Discussion Meeting on Catalysis in London today, attracted considerable interest from catalysis experts. Between the conception of the MACS and these first formal reports has been a terrific team effort to develop and demonstrate the new technology in a rigorous fashion. A series of further papers are in preparation. LATE NEWS A happy addendum to this story – Ross has been awarded the best poster prize at the Faraday Discussion.


Nanoman reaches out to Bavarian schools
3 February 2016

NPRL is delighted to be assisting the Bavarian Nanotechnology Cluster in Germany to promote their outreach program to schools in the state. The “Cluster Nanotechnology” was founded in 2006 in order to better exploit the enormous potential of nanotechnology and is supported by the Bavarian state government. The Cluster promotes cooperation between the research and economic sectors in nanotechnology, and also introduces students and teachers to the field. The Cluster organizes a school competition for nanotechnology projects every year and to advertise the competition they create a poster with an interesting picture from the nano area. This year they have chosen our Nanoman to follow last year’s poster offering, which was Don Eigler’s nano corral. Asked by NPRL News for a comment, Nanoman responded in characteristically laconic fashion “It’s good to know that we old timers from the pioneer days haven’t been forgotten by the young generation”. After all, he is nearly 20…

Click here for more NPRL News