Image shows diffusion of an element at a solar cell interface. It was captured using a scanning electron microscope with cathodoluminescence capabilities.

Image shows diffusion of an element at a solar cell interface. It was captured using a scanning electron microscope with cathodoluminescence capabilities.

Loughborough awarded £2.6m to open national facility that will allow unique nanoscale imaging of solar cells

Loughborough University has been awarded £2.6m to open a new national facility that will increase our understanding of how solar cells and other electronic devices that interact with light work.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the National Facility for High Resolution Cathodoluminescence (CL) Analysis will be the first of its kind globally and open to researchers from around the world.

The facility will aid with the development of solar cell technologies, LEDs, quantum dots and other devices that operate on both light and electrical currents, known as ‘optoelectronics’.

The properties of materials used in solar cells and optoelectronic devices are governed by processes that occur at the atomic scale. 

The new facility, set to open this summer, will house a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM), both with cathodoluminescence capabilities.

The SEM will allow researchers to analyse devices at the microscale – with one micrometre (1μm) equivalent to one-millionth of a metre.

Important features can then be selected, removed, and analysed in the STEM at the nanoscale (the scale at which atoms are measured, with one nanometre (1nm) equivalent to one-thousandth of a micrometre, or one-billionth of a metre).

The cathodoluminescence capabilities of the microscopes will allow researchers to compare images and pinpoint defects or impurities that affect solar cell performance.

This information can then be used to make modifications to materials or processes and improve device performance.  

Professor Mike Walls, of the Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology (CREST), and Loughborough Materials Characterisation Centre (LMCC)’s Dr Mark Jepson and Dr Zhaoxia Zhou led the bid for the facility.

Professor Walls said the facility will “help maintain the UK's position as a research leader in photovoltaic and optoelectronic device development”.

He commented: “We are very proud to have been chosen to host the National Facility for High Resolution Cathodoluminescence. 

“Loughborough University is well known for its research in solar cells, and CREST already has a reputation for world-class materials characterisation.

“This facility will have a capability that is unique worldwide and the results will have a huge impact on our understanding of how solar cells work at the atomic level. 

“Its impact is going to be international.”

Dr Jepson and Dr Zhou commented: “It is a privilege for LMCC to hold a leading role in this grant alongside CREST as it allows us to collaborate with international academic leaders, explore new ambitious research areas and provide additional services to industrial clients too.

“As we look to purchase, install and undertake training for the new equipment, the next few months will be very exciting and will help us plan the next stage of our development.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/34


The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from digital technologies to clean energy, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. 

EPSRC invests in world-leading research and skills, advancing knowledge and delivering a sustainable, resilient and prosperous UK. We support new ideas and transformative technologies which are the foundations of innovation, improving our economy, environment and society. Working in partnership and co-investing with industry, we deliver against national and global priorities.

About Loughborough University 

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings – the sixth year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’.

In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.