Take a peek inside one of our enterprising labs...
Salford Analytical Services (SAS) is a unique facility on the University campus. Located in the Cockcroft Building, from the outside the SAS laboratories are very unassuming but inside they are a showcase of some of the most sophisticated scientific equipment the institution owns.
Within the SAS laboratories there are a range of high- tech microscopes and analytical instruments that can examine materials at the ‘nano’ scale. They have recently invested in a state- of-the-art Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) that has a magnification range over 1,000,000 and can produce images of atomic structures down to a few nanometres (nm) in size. A nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre and, to give a sense of scale, a human hair is about 60,000 nm thick and a single flu virus is typically about 100 nm in diametre.
Other equipment in SAS includes a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer and an X-ray Diffractometer, which are used to accurately determine the chemical composition of a wide variety of materials such as pharmaceuticals, paints, minerals and plastics. Not only does SAS provide a service to students, researchers and academics but they also undertake a large amount of commercial analytical work for external companies. For example, they have recently been working with a car manufacturer to determine why the seat coverings were wearing out prematurely. Other projects have included the analysis of pharmaceutical products to determine if they were genuine or counterfeit.
The highly sophisticated equipment and the extremely experienced technical staff within SAS make for a very powerful combination. How samples are prepared has a huge influence on the results; it takes a great deal of skill to prepare samples for the new TEM machine, which requires very thin slices about 50nm thick and samples for other microscopes have to be coated with a thin layer of a metal such as palladium. There is a small close-knit team at SAS comprising two analytical chemists, Joe McMahon and Kirit Amin, with Geoff Parr managing the whole operation. All the SAS team have come from industry and between them they have over 95 years' experience in materials and analytical chemistry.
Geoff Parr commented: “We are an unusual laboratory in the University in that we don’t have researchers or academics. Our philosophy is very much about offering a professional service both internally to researchers and externally to business. Our equipment is state-of-the-art and expensive to run, so the income from the external commercial work is crucial since it makes a major contribution to our running costs. If it weren’t for the commercial work, we would not be able to operate much of this equipment and our researchers would lose out. The commercial work is also a great challenge for us – we have no idea what will come through the door next, but given our experience we have usually come across a similar problem before.”
Much of the commercial work comes from local companies, many of whom are small and could not justify purchasing their own analytical equipment. One such company is Manchester-based Lofrix, who manufacture additives for use in lubricating oils. Ian Sibbick, a director at Lofrix, said: “I am very impressed with the range of equipment, the knowledge of the team and the set up at SAS. We are based in Manchester and, as a small company, it’s really valuable to us to be able to access this type of capability.”
Professor Nigel Mellors, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Enterprise, concludes: “Since SAS established in 2009, Geoff and his team have achieved an excellent reputation within the College of Science and Technology for their technical expertise and ability to solve problems. They also have an impressive range of commercial clients and have established themselves as the first choice for analytical services with a number of multinational medical device manufacturers. Moving forward, they will be playing a key role in the development of our innovation cluster, which will be working closely with business in the Bio Sector.”