South West & South Wales finalist - Freddie Russell-Pavier

Freddie recently passed his PhD viva and is awaiting graduation from the University of Bristol, UK. In partnership with the National Physical Laboratory, Freddie’s PhD focused on translating the commonly found electro-mechanical components in DVD players and applying them as sensors for high-speed nanoscale imaging within material analysis. Working closely with Dr Oliver Payton and Dr Loren Picco at the University of Bristol, along with collaborators at the National Physical Laboratory, Virginia Commonwealth University (USA) and University College London (UK), Freddie has demonstrated the surprising performant capabilities of the low-cost DVD technology. As a consequence of integrating DVD reading sensors into the technique of high-speed atomic force microscopy, a series of new measurement tools have been created. He has worked on a diverse range of challenges from helping to perfect a novel 2D material manufacturing process, to developing a next generation genome sequencing diagnostic tool that has just completed medical trials for leukemia and breast cancer in the USA.

Nano- to millimetre-scale material characterisation with DVD player components

The digital versatile disc (DVD) player technology, which we might typically use at home to watch movies or transfer files in our workplaces, has been developed into a component capable of nanoscale sensing. DVD player detection systems operate at very high bandwidths and allow for unprecedented sensing speeds when applied to the emerging field of video-rate atomic force microscopy (AFM). This new type of microscope is able to collect topography maps thousands of times faster than conventional AFM, allowing nanoscale processes to be observed in real time under ambient or liquid environments. 

The focus detection system in a DVD player read head (also known as an optical pickup unit) is central within a novel video-rate AFM that is able to map out individual strands of labelled DNA molecules in 3D that are less than 1,000,000,000th of a metre in size. Using this technology we are also able to map the locations of carbides, and other inclusions (approximately 2nm high) in thermally sensitised 306 stainless steel, akin to those materials found in nuclear reactor boiler components. Such data gives insight into the local changes in material properties that could lead to critical failure of high-value components in industry.

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