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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/F031416/1
Title: Ultra Precision Surfaces - Translation Grant
Principal Investigator: Walker, Professor DD
Other Investigators:
Shore, Professor P Doel, Professor AP Nicholls, Professor JR
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Physics and Astronomy
Organisation: UCL
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 April 2008 Ends: 30 September 2012 Value (£): 670,808
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Lasers & Optics Surfaces & Interfaces
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
13 Nov 2007 Basic Technology Translation Grants Call 2 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Features of surfaces, such as smoothness or roughness, flatness or curviness, are responsible for many aspects of modern life. Bearings in motorcars are an obvious example. Even in simple digital cameras, precise surfaces on glass lenses are responsible for the ultimate image sharpness. Moveover, much of our culture relies on the computer industry, which in turn depends on micro-chips. But behind the scenes, their manufacture demands ever-increasing accuracy in large lenses used to project the micro-patterns that make them work.Since 2004, a team from University College London and Cranfield University has established the National Facility for Ultra Precision Surfaces in a new building - the OpTIC Technium in North Wales. EPSRC funds this under the 4.2m 'Ultra Precision Surfaces: A New Paradigm' project. The team has been developing manufacturing machines, installing the world's most advanced equipment for making and measuring precise surfaces up to a metre across. Even more ambitiously, the team is exploring interplay between processes; how to make the chain from raw glass to finished component as efficient as possible.Why bother? Well, there are a host of emerging demands in space and on the ground! One of the most exciting is the next generation of truly enormous astronomical telescopes, tiled with hundreds of mirror-segments, each around a metre or two across. These telescopes will look for galaxies back at the time they formed, and search for earth-like planets around other stars; even for the feeble signs of life itself! Mirror technology may well end up changing the whole way that our culture looks upon its place in the universe!As the four-year project draws to a successful conclusion, it is time to ask, what next? This is where the Translation Grant can play an important role as the 'cement' between past and future. It is one thing to be successful in an experimental setting; quite another to apply the results industrially. So the first priority is to translate the results from the current scientific phase into a form suitable for use by industry. This will demand tedious - but crucially important - experiments to perfect how well the processes will deliver exactly the same result: over and over again. And also, how the process 'recipes' need to be changed for working a range of different materials. Then, there are practical issues in making large surfaces that are easy with a team of skilled scientists, but requiring some more work for the factory environment. More broadly, processes we are developing can be adapted to applications unforeseen when we applied for our Basic Technology grant. Little did we know, for example, that the mirror-tile technology for telescopes might help solve the world's energy crisis! But this is true! Here on Earth, taming the fusion processes that make energy within a typical star - such as our own sun - is indeed the most promising long-term answer. One project will focus high-power lasers onto a tiny target, to raise its temperature to the millions of degrees C, needed to ignite fusion. How will the focussing be done? By a large segmented mirror much like those proposed for the extremely large telescopes! But this isn't just a case of using the same mirrors in a different context. Micro-defects that have no effect in cameras or telescopes can cause failure of high-power laser optics. So an important piece of new work will be to develop processes to reduce these defects to the absolute minimum possible. There are other exciting applications, such as peculiar surfaces used to focus X-rays (e.g. for medical imaging), and manufacture of flexible mirrors that can be bent to correct for errors elsewhere. The Translation Grant will give the flexibility to work with industry and other scientists to seize these and other opportunities and establish basic feasibility. Then, we will have the confidence for more substantial programmes to develop the technology furthur.
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