Revolutionary microstructural imaging system created in Nottingham set for global use

Wednesday, 14 February 2024

A revolutionary microscopy technique, invented at the University of Nottingham, which can image the microscopic elasticity of engineering materials is set for global use after being adopted by US company Coherent Photon Imaging (CPI).

Many materials are made up of thousands of small crystals. The size, shape, and stiffness of these are essential to the material's performance. In real engineering materials, such as aero engine components, the stiffness of these crystals previously hasn't been able to be measured, but could only be identified from specially prepared single crystals, which had to be prepared in laboratories at great expense.

These single crystals often had significantly different properties from the real engineering material they were supposed to represent due to differences in their preparation. This meant that it was previously impossible to determine the fundamental microscopic stiffness of real materials– an issue industry has faced for more than 100 years.


Now, the university’s patented invention, SRAS, and the newly patented SRAS++ technique, can measure this complex stiffness in real materials and “image” the stiffness, making it possible to map variations, for the first time. These brand-new discoveries pave the way for a myriad of other applications, such as the detection of residual stress and in situ monitoring the progress of processes such as heat treatment and annealing.

Supported by a six-figure funding boost from the EPSRC, the technology has already started to be used in aerospace to evaluate the structural integrity of materials used in the manufacture of critical engine components. Now, it’s set for global adoption through a collaboration with Iowa-based CPI.

Previously, the only way to measure the elasticity matrix of a material was to cut it up or attempt to grow a single crystal of the material, a process that cannot be done for many materials, such as the titanium alloys used in modern jet engines, which wastes money, time, and materials."
Professor Matt Clark

Professor Clark, co-lead on the study from the Optics and Photonics Research Group at the University of Nottingham, continued: “We’re thrilled to be able to announce our partnership with the team at CPI, marking a significant step in the wider commercialisation of SRAS and SRAS++. Clients are already signing on the dotted line to adopt the technology and we look forward to seeing our research turn into reality.”

Recognising both the elegance of the SRAS and SRAS++ methods, as well as their potential to be widely adopted, established a partnership to commercialise the technology.

Pete Collins, Founder and Co-owner of CPI, said: “Rarely does a new measurement technique emerge that has the potential to truly transform the way that industry operates when it comes to materials characterisation, design, and qualification. Considering the advancements over the past 90 years, I assess that SRAS and SRAS++ are equivalently significant advances as the transmission electron microscope, scanning electron microscope, focused ion-beam microscope, and the local electrode atoms probe."

What sets this apart is that it measures not only a material’s state, but also its elasticity, a capability none of these other methods can do. This is a game changer. We are delighted to be working closely with such a pioneering group to bring this technology to market as widely as we can.
Pete Collins

Dr Richard Smith, Associate Professor and member of the Optics and Photonics Research Group, said: “We’re continuing to look at other ways we can use SRAS and SRAS++ and have already incorporated it into 3D printing technology, creating a way to monitor the state of a material while it is printed. This is just the beginning for technology of this kind and we’re excited to see how far our research can take us.”

To find out more about SRAS, read the latest paper published in Applied Sciences in 2023 here.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Matt Clark on, or; Danielle Hall, Media Relations Manager at the University of Nottingham, at or 0115 846 7156.    

About the Faculty of Engineering

Made up of six departments – Architecture and Built Environment, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering and Foundation Engineering and Physical Sciences – the university’s Faculty of Engineering is home to more than 5,600 students and 800 staff.

The faculty, which has educated engineers and architects for more than 140 years, was the first in the country to be accredited with an Athena SWAN Gold Award for excellence in advancing gender equality across higher education and research and is home to multiple state-of-the-art facilities, including the recently opened £40m Power Electronics and Machines Centre (PEMC).

With research at its heart, 21 research groups are undertaking pioneering projects for a sustainable future across several themes – including net zero transport, sustainable energies and the built environment, advanced manufacturing, and healthcare technologies – and has delivered a positive impact in more than 20 countries. Within those countries, the faculty’s research has supported 500 companies and three governments – that have changed their strategies as a result of its research – and has also directly created jobs for around 3,000 people across the world.

Danielle Hall - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Engineering
Phone: 0115 846 7156

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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