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Photon Science Institute

Close-up of equipment with red light on the inside of silver metal


The Photon Science Institute provides comprehensive photonic characterisation capability to researchers.

Key capability

Imaging and characterisation techniques that form part of the infrastructure and research base include:

  • Ambient XPS
  • Electron microscopy
  • Electron paramagnetic resonance
  • Laser materials processing
  • Optical spectroscopy
  • Raman spectroscopy and imaging
  • Secondary ion mass spectrometry
  • X-ray imaging

The PSI delivers X-ray through to THz spectroscopy, imaging and characterisation of advanced materials and devices on timescales down to femtoseconds, at temperatures down to 1.2 K and at magnetic fields up to 30 T.

Additionally, we have invested in key basic facilities which allow immediate exploitation of our laser sources through UV-VIS-NIR absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy, high spatial resolution fluorescence and triple raman / photoluminescence spectroscopy.

These are accompanied by the necessary sample and device processing facilities including a cleanroom for lithography and an inert atmosphere glovebox-based materials deposition suite.

We also host ultramodern capability that includes the CUSTOM, P-NAME, and XPS facilities described in detail below.

Cryogenic Ultrafast Scattering-type Terahertz-probe Optical-pump Microscopy (CUSTOM)

The CUSTOM facility consists of two scattering-type scanning near-field optical microscopy (s-SNOM) systems that can operate from the visible to the THz range. The systems offer material characterisation on nanometre length scales with ultrafast temporal resolution, enabling 2D mapping of local dieletric function and time-resolved dynamics with nanometre spatial resolution. The capabilities are: 

-       Low temperature (down to 10K) and room-temperature operation

-       Nanometre (~30 nm) spatial resolution

-       Time-resolved detection (~80 fs temporal resolution)

-       Operation in the MIR (5 – 15 um) and THz (0.1 – 4THz) frequency ranges

-       Flexibility to couple visible and NIR light sources to SNOM

-       Simultaneous imaging of amplitude, phase and topography

-       Hyperspectral mapping

-       Surface-sensitivity

-       Tapping-mode operation to extract near-field information and perform tomography (3D mapping)

Hard X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (HAXPES)

The Hard X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy allows for the non-destructive measurement of the bulk chemical and electronic environment and depth-profiling from the surface into the bulk of a material up to depths of around 100 nm.

Previously only available at synchrotron radiation sources (such as I09 beamline at Diamond LS), this has been made possible by new technologies in lab-based hard X-ray sources with 1000 times more flux.

The facility also includes a flexible vacuum preparation chamber, vacuum suitcase, and inert transfer from an argon glove box, along with a high-throughput XPS instrument with etching sources and ultraviolet PES.

Contact: Ben Spencer -


The Cameca NanoSIMS 50L is a high resolution secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) instrument that can be used to image and measure the isotopic and elemental distribution of elements in all types of samples, routinely achieving 100nm spatial resolution. It is capable of detecting isotopes of almost every element in the periodic table from hydrogen to uranium at ppm or ppb levels depending upon the element.

Typical applications include trace or light element mapping and spatially resolved isotopic ratio measurements. It can be an extremely powerful method for understanding the dynamics of processes by stable isotope labelling in materials across all scientific disciplines including biological samples with subcellular detail. It is also one of the few techniques available that can spatially resolve hydrogen and deuterium distributions.

Contact: Katie Moore -

Manchester NanoSIMS website

Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (ToF-SIMS

ToF-SIMS is an advanced label-free technique for the atomic and molecular characterisation and imaging of a broad range of materials in 2D and 3D. Material is sputtered from a sample surface at the molecular level by a scanning high-energy ion beam and subjected to simultaneous chemical and positional analysis by advanced mass spectrometry. These capabilities are highly complementary to NanoSIMS, XPS and electron microscopy.

ToF-SIMS analysis has delivered major advances in diverse fields such as biomaterials, energy storage, catalysis, nanotechnology and organic electronics. For example a full chemical 3D image to 20 micron depth in a solid-state battery electrode can be obtained, revealing the chemistry of defects and buried interfaces. Biomolecular distributions in cells and tissue scaffolds can be imaged in a parallel manner to determine cellular interactions and aid understanding of biocompatibility.


Contact: Sadia Sheraz -

Platform for Nanoscale Advanced Materials Engineering (P-NAME)

The P-NAME facility provides the ability to create materials in which highly localised atomic doping is engineered to introduce novel functionality, delivering the ability to perform electronic, optical and magnetic doping of advanced materials with sub 20nm precision.

It enable the versatility to image, dope and pattern crystalline and amorphous materials with multiple ion species at high spatial resolution at ion energies and doping levels sufficient to locally engineer existing and synthesise new materials, setting it apart as a new tool for advanced materials and devices engineering.

Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR)

The PSI houses the EPSRC National Research Facility for EPR Spectroscopy. EPR is uniquely sensitive to the environment of unpaired electrons, so is ideal for studying paramagnetic materials, which can be intrinsic or extrinsic (labelled, doped, induced, defective). We have a range of infrastructure and experiments suitable for studying a wide range of samples, including chemical, biological, materials, devices, in the solid or solution or gas phases. These experiments are based on: continuous wave (cw) and pulsed EPR at 1, 4, 9 and 34 GHz and cw at 24 GHz; magnetic field range 0 – 1.7 T; pulsed hyperfine methods (for electron-nuclear interactions, e.g. ESEEM, ENDOR, HYSCORE); pulsed dipolar methods (for long-range electron-electron interactions, e.g. DEER/PELDOR, RIDME); optical (210-2400 nm) or electrochemical excitation; temperature range 2 - 500 K.  SQUID magnetometry (DC/AC, VSM, rotator, oven, hν) is also available.

For further information and access arrangements please go to the EPR Facility website.
and/or email Facility staff: or

Contacts: Prof David Collison, Prof Eric McInnes, Dr Alice Bowen, Dr Floriana Tuna, Dr Murali Shanmugam, Mr Adam Brookfield.

Asynchronous Optical Sampling (ASOPS)

Asynchronous optical sampling (ASOPS) facility combines two ultrafast Ti:Sapphire laser systems with a stabilisation unit and a fast acquisition card. The facility enables high-speed terahertz time domain spectroscopy (THz-TDS) by replacing the slow mechanical delay stage typically used in THz-TDS systems. This high-speed capability is ideal for studying rapid changes in materials and can be exploited with pulsed magnetic fields (up to 30 Tesla).

Laser-excited Photoluminescence (PL)

The laser-excited photoluminescence (PL) facility enables the photo-physics of samples to be explored in depth. Several laser sources are available for excitation including a cw HeCd laser (325 nm, 10 mW) and two mode-locked 1W Ti:Sapphire ultrafast lasers, each producing 100 fs pulses; the emission wavelength of the pulsed lasers can be tuned across the Ti:sapphire emission band in the near-IR and also upconverted to the visible and UV via second and third harmonic generation. The PL can be spectrally- and polarisation-resolved using one of several spectrometers and detected either using a CCD array for single-shot ,rapid acquisition of spectra or via a PMT and a lock-in amplifier for sensitive detection. The spectral sensitivity of the detectors is optimised for the UV and visible, but extends also in to the near-IR. The detection of PL emitted following pulsed excitation is via a multi-channel plate and utilises time-correlated single photon counting, enabling PL decay transients to be acquired with ~100 ps resolution. Samples can be mounted in a closed-cycle helium cryostat for temperature control from 10K to room temperature.

Optoelectronic Materials Spectroscopy

This facility in the Photon Science Institute hosts a number of experimental techniques. We have four areas of expertise:

Automated/robotic high-throughput microscopy – machine vision, fast photoluminescence

Non-linear and time-resolved spectroscopy – lasing, transient absorption microscopy

Scanning photo-current microscopy – SPCM

Single photon spectroscopy – iTCSPC

These techniques rely on our workhorse laser system – a PHAROS 20W, producing ultrashort pulses (200 femtoseconds) in the near infrared (1030nm) at 200,000 Hz. This is coupled with an ORPHEUS-HP optical parametric amplifier providing near gap-free tunability across 315nm to 16,000nm, with similar pulse characteristics.

National Nuclear User Facility

Key capabilities are:

-       Comprehensive UV to IR time-resolved optical spectroscopy

-       Multiphoton and ultrafast spectroscopy

-       Wet chemical synthesis and glovebox for air-sensitive samples

-       Radiochemistry (expertise in handling uranium and neptunium)

-       Variable temperature steady state and time resolved fluorescence and phosphorescence spectroscopy

-       Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) and elemental mapping

-       Multiphoton spectroscopy and fluorescence and phosphorescence confocal spectroscopy and lifetime imaging

Junction Spectroscopy (DLTS, LDLTS, MCTS)

A number of Junction Spectroscopy techniques are available at the PSI. These techniques are used for looking at impurities and defects in semiconductors and at the interface between semiconductors and dielectrics. A detailed description of the techniques appeared in a tutorial review published in Journal of Applied Physics 123 , 161559 (2018) Some of these methods were invented and developed in Manchester and we are now a world leading centre for this work.

The measurements require a p-n junction, Schottky barrier, MIS capacitor or a transistor structure to be made on a semiconductor slice, nanostructures embedded in a semiconductor matrix can also be analysed (quantum wells and dots). Facilities available range from simple capacitance-voltage measurements to optically excited deep level transient spectroscopy.  The techniques for studying defects are based on an analysis of the time resolved charge exchange associated with the impurities or defects within a depletion region, usually as a function of temperature between 10 and 450 K. These are known variously as DLTS, LDLTS, MCTS, ODLTS, admittance spectroscopy, etc.

It is possible to obtain very high detectivity. In silicon, as used in integrated circuits, defect concentrations of ~1010 cm-3 (~1 part in 1013) can be analysed. In solar cell material the detectivity is about 1012 cm-3.  In most cases the determination of absolute concentration of defects is possible. The concentration is averaged over an area of 1 mm2 and can be profiled at right angles to the surface with a depth resolution of a fraction of a micron. Identification of the defects can be obtained by comparison of their electronic properties with the records in a defect library. These are very extensive in the case of silicon and germanium alloys but less so in compound semiconductors.

Defects and impurities have a dramatic effect on the performance of semiconductor devices because of their impact on carrier trapping and on the generation and recombination lifetime.  The techniques enable the electronic properties necessary to calculate these impacts but we can also measure the recombination-generation lifetime directly using electrical methods or by time resolved photoluminescence. We can also map recombination lifetime on slices up to 8 inch diameter. As this equipment uses a 905nm LASER it is only possible to map semiconductors with a bandgap <  1.3eV so its use is essentially restricted to Si, Ge and SiGe alloys.

At the present time the focus of our work is on solar silicon and on the gallium nitride family of materials.

Contacts: Vladimir Markevich, Janet JacobsMatthew Halsall, Iain Crowe, Tony Peaker

Thermal Scanning Probe Lithography (t-SPL)

Thermal scanning probe lithography (t-SPL) system (model: NanoFrazor Explore) is a suitable choice for writing high-resolution features with dimensions around 10-15 nm on spin-coated conducting and non-conducting substrates. This system utilizes a hot tip capable of reaching temperatures up to 1100 °C to write by sublimating the PPA (polyphthalaldehyde) resist. Additionally, it offers the unique capability of simultaneous writing and reading through in-situ AFM (Atomic Force Microscopy), providing markerless overlay with sub-40nm accuracy. We are currently in the process of optimizing our various recipes to achieve feature sizes below 40nm.    

3D grayscale nanolithography (3D topographical structures) can be written and the patterning depths for each pixel of the pattern are determined by the applied electrostatic actuation force of the cantilever. A vertical resolution below 2 nm is possible with NanoFrazor Explore. 

The NanoFrazor Explore is equipped with a Laser writer module, which operates at a wavelength of 405 nm and delivers a power of 150 mW on the sample. This inclusion enhances the system's versatility, allowing for the lithography of both micro and nano features. 

One notable advantage of the t-SPL system is its minimal damaging effect. The heat energy generated is predominantly absorbed by the top layer of the resist stack (within 50 nm), preventing excessive heating of the underlying substrate. Consequently, the samples remain pristine, enabling improved electrical contacts for sensitive materials such as 2D materials and topological insulators.

For full details of the tool capability and more details in general, please visit the dedicated webpage: or email: