The University of Surrey's (Guildford, Surrey, England) acquisition of an Ultra High Vacuum Scanning Tunnelling Microscope/Scanning Electron Microscope (UHV STM/SEM) is being billed as a central figure to a £1.2 million future nanotechnology research project that is headed up by the institution's Professor of Solid-State Electronics, Ravi Silva.

Built to specification, the Surrey UHV STM/SEM is housed in the University's Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) and is claimed to be one of only six such instruments worldwide. Professor Silva's team will use the device (which is described as representing a 'completely new dimension [in] the fabrication of [nano-scale] devices') to research carbon nanotubes (the Buckyball derivative of Carbon 60) as a precursor to a new generation of devices that will be smaller and faster than current silicon technology.

The Silva programme is being channelled into four areas to facilitate rapid exploitation in all, with the key issue being small device structures. Areas being explored include field emission-based electron energy sources, quantum dots as light emitters and the development of ultra fast terrahertz electron beam and carbon nanotube energy storage devices.

Surrey's carbon nanotube research is initially funded for a three-year period and it is hoped that other projects will be able to exploit the new UHV STM/SEM facility well into the next decade. For its part, Surrey's ATI is described as bringing together six research groups from three Schools within the University to stimulate cross-disciplinary research. Alongside the described carbon nanotube effort, overall research areas will include microwave subsystems, lasers and optoelectronics, large area electronics, ion beam applications and biosensors. To maximise utility, Surrey further notes that the ATI is a multi-purpose facility that has been designed for the rapid re-direction of use when required.