The James Watt Institute for High Value Manufacturing logo






Industrial Impact

News and Events

Contact Us - Location

JWI - Internal

IMRC logo


Industrial Impact
Heriot Watt University Edinburgh logo
  Case Studies
3D Mintegration Design Planning Laser Cutting Laser Machining LTCC Substrate Technology
Micro Optics Shape Measurement Stencil Manufacture Texture Capture VR Cable Harness Design

Precision Laser Cutting for Telescopes
image of large telescope

Mike MacIntosh of the UK Astronomy technology centre stated “This project puts ATC at the forefront of submillimetre technology. It has also encouraged us to consider setting up a foundation for UK experts to carry out further investigations in superconducting detector arrays. The later cutting techniques that we and Heriot-Watt have developed will not only be applicable to astronomy, but will have wider impact in the semiconductor industry.”

The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC) Edinburgh is the national centre for astronomical technology, designing and building instruments for many of the world’s major telescopes. It also project manages UK and international collaborations, where scientists carry out observational and theoretical research into fundamental questions such as the origins of planets and of galaxies. It recently called on the expertise of Heriot-Watt University, via colleagues at the Scottish Microelectronics Centre (SMC), to help it maintain its position at the forefront of sub millimetre astronomy technology.

Over the past decade the UK has established itself as a world leader in sub millimetre astronomy. It is the detecting of very cold materials which allows the understanding of the origins of the most mysterious earliest evolutionary stages of galaxies, stars and planets.

Astronomers in the UK have had access to some of the best telescope facilities and the most advanced instrumentation in the world. In particular, the SCUBA-2 bolometer camera, a state of the art wide-field camera that gives unprecedented sensitivity and imaging power. SCUBA-2, in conjunction with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope has completely revolutionised this area of astronomy. Using sub millimetre wave astronomy and observations, astronomers can examine molecular clouds and dark cloud cores with a goal of clarifying the process of star formation from earliest collapse to stellar birth.

A key component of the instrument is the detector array, which is fabricated on hybridised silicon wafers. These arrays require parts of the silicon wafer to be deep-etched leaving “bridges” of thickness of only 0.5 microns. Following this, it is necessary to precisely dice the wafer, without damaging these thin silicon nitride bridges, which are very sensitive to mechanical shock. Other parts of the device are very temperature sensitive and require extremely high cleanliness.

The solution was to develop a suitable low-debris laser-machining process, with minimal thermal and mechanical shock. Prof Duncan Hand and his team of researchers at the James Watt Institute for High Value Manufacturing were able to exploit this process and fabricate the material in the clean environment which is required to enable ultra precision laser cutting of wafers.

The results of this project will keep the UK and the other project partners at the forefront of sub millimetre astronomy technology.

For more information contact:

Duncan Hand
+44 0 131 451 3020
Also visit
Designed by Evolution Design