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Shadow Universities Minister visits the UK’s most powerful microscope, the ORION™ helium-ion, at the University of Southampton

Published: 15 October 2009

The Shadow Secretary of State for Universities & Skills, David Willetts MP, has visited the University of Southampton’s newly opened Southampton Nanofabrication Centre to see its cutting-edge technology.

The state-of-the-art centre, part of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, opened earlier this month in the Mountbatten Building, and is home to the ORION™ helium-ion microscope, the only one of its kind in the UK and one of only three in the world that is capable of providing images of unrivalled high resolution, 100,000 times smaller than a human hair.

Mr Willetts toured other facilities at the centre, including a purpose-built clean-room, which covers 820m² and provides a flexible capability and a wide range of nano-and bio-nano technologies.

The Shadow Universities Minister also met with Professor David Payne, Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre, who spoke of the ground-breaking ‘blue-skies research’ undertaken at the University, and how, historically, research into optical fibres has developed new technologies which can now lay claim to a multi-billion pound industry underpinning our internet and telecommunications networks.

Professor David Payne said: “This challenge began in the 1960s when we started research to enable optical fibres to transmit light more than a few inches. Back then I could not have dreamed that this would result in the invention of most of the special fibres used today to listen for submarines, navigate airliners, shoot down missiles and cut thick steel. Most importantly, our devices enable the optical fibre internet, perhaps the greatest invention of the 21st century which today is a multi-billion pound industry.”

David Willetts MP commented: “Cutting-edge research and innovation such as the University of Southampton's work on optical fibres is enabling the UK to compete globally and strengthen the economy.”

Dr Madj Zoorob, Chief Technical Officer of PhotonStar LED Ltd, was invited on the day to explain how leading edge nanotechnology research from the University was being successfully commercialised by industry.

“The rapid advancement in state-of-the-art nanofabrication has enabled solid state lighting products such as SmartWhite LED luminaires to reduce energy consumption of lighting products by up to 80% and enable unprecedented control of the light source. The age of intelligent tunable luminaires has arrived,” explained Dr Zoorob.

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