Plymouth Materials Characterisation Network
The goals of the Plymouth Materials Characterisation Network (PMCN) project were simple; build a self-sustaining network of researchers, technicians, industry experts, and academics who utilise electron microscopy, and to provide support for Devon-based companies by granting free access to powerful instruments and techniques that might otherwise be out of reach. Despite major global events, we have exceeded expectations by engaging with 44 companies through PMCN. We installed new instrumentation, hired new team members, developed new outreach events, and worked with a wide range of businesses to conduct some fascinating science.
We're very grateful to everyone who engaged with Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre through PMCN, and we look forwards to seeing the onwards development of these new relationships. We can't share everything we've done from 2021 to 2023, we've highlighted a few companies below as an example of the diversity of businesses and sectors that electron microscopy has benefitted.
Although access to our facilities through PMCN has come to an end, we still provide support and state-of-the-art analysis for businesses in the UK and internationally with competitive commercial rates.
Tappermade Beauty and cosmetics
comparative analysis of hair samples treated with Tappermade solid shampoo bars and a market-leading competitor brand, we investigated the effects of both products on a range of hair types.
We were able to see clear differences between the two products; the Tappermade solid shampoo bar caused minimal lifting of the hair cuticle whereas the competitor caused significant damage as a result of a much higher pH level, as well as leaving a visible residue.
Electron microscopy was able to reconcile the experience of people who have used solid shampoo bars in real terms.
Porsham Farm Farming and agriculture
Understanding the composition and condition of soil is an important part of running a farm. Porsham Farm provided soil samples from each of their fields to explore variations in mineral, fungal, and plant content.
Not only were we able to generate a wealth of images of each soil sample, we also conducted compositional analysis using
energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) and used our in-house knowledge of geology to provide additional context of key minerals and where they have likely been derived from. For instance, we were able to identify a rare earth element bearing mineral that formed in the local Dartmoor granites millions of years ago as well as the source rocks of sandy areas in their fields.
HEL Performance Automotive manufacturing
How products wear during use can have key impacts on product longevity. HEL Performance create a range of products for motorcycles and cars, and were interested to see the differences in their products before and after use. Through our imaging and compositional analysis, we were able to establish that material is transferred between products that are in contact with each other in an assembled vehicle.
We were also able to use our links to the wider university to conduct
Fourier transform infrared analysis (FTIR) for a more comprehensive understanding of the materials used.
Thunderflower Devon Gin Distillery Food and drink
Not all companies use electron microscopy to solve a problem with a product. Instead, some businesses take advantage of the imaging capabilities of our instruments to see their products in a new light.
Thunderflower Distillery did just that and kindly provided us with samples of each of the botanicals used in their gin recipe, and we set about imaging them all.
Although electron microscopy imaging typically creates greyscale images, we added colour to their favourite images for use in marketing material.
Dartmoor Zoological Society Animal conservation
We were fortunate enough to work with Dartmoor Zoo a number of times through PMCN, including spending two days with them for a
Microscopy LIVE! event with our portable JEOL NeoScope SEM. Staff and research students from the Zoo also came to the lab to analyse a wide range of animal products including this stick insect shed.
Team members at PEMC taught our guests from Dartmoor Zoo how to use our instruments and the images they collected revealed new levels of detail and complexity in their samples. Images collected at PEMC have been used for public events at Dartmoor Zoo.
Tungsten West Mining
A common use of electron microscopy in geoscience is the identification of minerals using
energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS). This gives compositions in terms of individual element percentages, letting researchers see subtle differences. Local mining company Tungsten West took full advantage of the facilities available at Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre to get a better understanding of the rocks they're working with, and we were pleased to welcome them into the lab to see the analysis happen in real time.
PEMC also has
automated mineralogy capabilities that can provide a range of useful assay data for mineral companies.