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Electrical and Electronic Engineering Facilities

Electrical and Electronic Engineering Facilities

Discover the state-of-the-art laboratories and clean rooms we have available as part of our range of electrical and electronic engineering facilities.

Centre for advanced electrical drives

At the School of Engineering, we have world-class electronic engineering facilities. Ourselves and our business partners can access to conduct research. 

We also have a number of private offices, laboratories, and meeting rooms. Here, our clients can undertake research within a confidential environment.

James Widmer leads the centre. James is an expert in the design of electrical machines with experience of working in the aerospace industry. Please contact us for an informal discussion on how we can help your business to grow.

Contact us

Dr James Widmer
Centre for Advanced Electrical Drives
School of Engineering
Merz Court
Newcastle University
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 7RU, UK

Gilly Durkin
APC Electric Machines Spoke Coordinator

Advanced propulsion centre UK partnership

We are a member of the prestigious Spokes Network, a national network that works to support the automotive industry with specialist academic, technological, and commercial expertise as part of the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK.

Intelligent sensing laboratory

The Intelligent Sensing Laboratory opened in October 2016. Newcastle University Vice-Chancellor’s office provided funding of £0.75m as part of the University’s £30m Research Investment Fund.

Teaching facilities

Computing lab

Our computing laboratory has 116 workstations with a lecture area for mixed-mode teaching.

All the PCs have standard engineering, drawing, and document creation tools. They also have electrical and electronic engineering software.

Installed software includes: 

  • MATLAB
  • Labview with Circuit Design Suite
  • Infolytica Magnet and Motor Solve
  • JMAG
  • Spice
  • AWR
  • CST
  • Digsilient Power Factory
  • ERACS
  • Altium
  • MPlab
  • SabreRD
  • Xilinx Vivado

The lab has machines with hardware development kits. These enable ARM, DSP, microcontroller, and FPGA programming, waveform generators, and oscilloscopes.

Electrical power

We have invested over £250K in a state-of-the-art training laboratory as part of our range of electronic engineering facilities. The lab provides facilities for electrical power, renewable energy, and motor control systems.

The lab has a range of Lucas-Nuelle test rigs so that students can develop skills in renewable energy generation.

The test benches simulate a wide range of scenarios that engineers are likely to face in the renewable energies industry. 

The servo-machine test bench is a comprehensive testing system. It examines the performance of electrical machines and drives. It includes a digital controller, a brake, and Active Servo software.

The system combines state-of-the-art technology with ease of operation. As a student, you'll develop cutting-edge skills in one of the leading industries in the future.

Features include:

  • eight workbenches equipped with the latest Keysight test equipment
  • 10 Quanser QUBE-Servo systems with National Instruments myRIO Connections
  • 12 Lucas-Nuelle mobile servo machine test stands consisting of:
    • four AC Induction Machines
    • four Mains Synchronising Machines
    • two DC Machines (a total of 6 are reconfigurable)
    • one Wind Power Plant (DFIG) test rig (to investigate the design and operation of modern wind power generation systems)
    • one Advanced Photovoltaic System (realistic simulation of the progression of the sun)

Electronics

The Electronics lab is home to 60 bays of the latest Agilent/Keysight digital test equipment. These link to individual PCs for real-time data capture.

We constantly update our equipment to ensure that it remains state-of-the-art. It benefits from a large number of bespoke experiments tailored to the subject fields we teach.

The Stage 1 lab provides facilities for practical hands-on design and construction experiments. This gives you practical experience in electronic design. We also offer the latest PCB design and CAD software. This will take your design from prototype to final testing. It mimics the authentic industrial way of working.

Each bench in the lab has certified soldering fume extraction and the latest in-circuit programming of Microchip and FPGA boards.

There is also a 15-seat project lab. This is a lab area for Stage 3 and 4 students to concentrate on individual projects.

Research facilities

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) lab

Our CAD Lab provides a range of software for teaching and research purposes.

Teaching

Engineers must be knowledgeable and competent with CAD tools. Our CAD lab has seven CAD-accessible terminals and a large screen for presentations. The Lab is also equipped with a video system for online training and teaching.

It's an excellent facility for postgraduate and first-year PhD students. You can develop skills in CAD software such as Cadence, Altium designer for PCB, and COMSOL. This training is essential for projects and future careers.

You can access the following software in the lab:

  • Cadence
  • Matlab
  • COMSOL
  • Synopsys

Research

The CAD lab is perfect for research-based activities.

The lab is open to all researchers in the School for a wide range of projects.

Due to the speed that technology is shrinking, circuit size has also shrunk. Thus the interconnection is also very small. A new, non-linear effect appears with these very small devices and interconnections.

The main goal of the CAD lab research is to build a tool or library which is able to simulate these non-linear responses using fractional calculus.

Clean-Room Microfabrication Lab

Our Clean-Room Microfabrication Lab includes two class 100-10000 clean rooms.

The ETM fabrication lab includes two class 100-10000 clean rooms (CRL1 and CRL4). The labs have controlled temperature and humidity (21±1 °C; 50±5% RH) and cover a total area of 120m2.

Our Rhw lab provides an excellent learning environment for both teaching and research. Work in the lab includes development in semiconductor device physics and technology.

The Fabrication Lab is serviced regularly. This includes upgrading equipment and replenishing chemicals and gases. Our regular maintenance minimises the risk of project delays due to facility fault or unavailability. The School solely supports this facility through charging at a flat rate per hour.

CRL1 Clean Room

The CRL1 class 100-10000 clean room houses an Oxford Instruments 200mm cluster tool. This tool combines ALD and metal deposition for novel gate stacks.

This clean room is also equipped with Picosun ALD for the following tasks:

  • High-temperature film deposition
  • RTP bench-top rapid thermal processor
  • wet chemical workstation
  • Bruker X-ray diffractometer

CRL4 Clean Room

The CRL4 class 100-1000 clean room specialises in silicon carbide device processing and interconnection research.

The CRL4 clean room has: 

  • Thermal and e-beam evaporators
  • RIE machine 
  • Photolithography facilities
  • JIPELEC furnace for SiC post-implantation annealing and graphene growth 

The School also has access to a 400m2 class 100 clean room facility:

  • Device fabrication, packaging, and characterisation at INEX Microtechnology
  • X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) facility at NEXUS

For further information and to arrange access to our Fabrication Lab, contact the Clean Room Manager.

Microfabrication equipment

Front-end processing and research in semiconductor device physics and technology.

Lithography
  • SLEE Co. Mask Aligner
  • Karl Suss MJB-3 Mask Aligner
  • front side align; minimum feature size: 1.5 µm; alignment accuracy +/- 1 µm
  • Hotplate and oven baking facility.
Wet processing
  • Two class 100 vertical laminar flow chemical work stations with air extraction
  • Both stations have ultrasonic baths, sources of ultrapure water (Veolia Water Systems Ltd. PURELAB Ultra), chemically resistant hot plates, and nitrogen jets.
Atomic Layer Deposition
  • Oxford Instruments FlexAL ALD tool (clustered with OI Plasmalab magnetron sputter)
  • equipped with 4-inch RF and two 8-inch DC magnetrons for metals and dielectrics sputtering
  • Picosun R200 AL tool
Deposition of metals and dielectrics
  • Oxford Instruments Plasmalab System 400 DC & RF magnetron sputter tool
  • The machine is clustered with OI FlexAL  ALD. It contains two targets for magnetron sputtering. One machine has two DC power sources and the second machine has one DC and one RF/DC power source.
  • Two Kurt J. Lesker PVD 75 vacuum deposition systems
  • Each one contains two targets for magnetron sputtering. One machine has two DC power sources and the second machine has one DC and one RF/DC power source.
  • BOC-Edwards Auto thermal evaporator
  • fitted with four evaporation boats
  • BOC-Edwards Auto e-beam evaporator
  • fitted with four hearth crucible deposition of a wide range of materials including refractory metals.
Thermal processing
  • JIPELEC rapid thermal processing (RTP) =
  • The primary use of the furnace is for annealing at temperatures up to 2000°C in argon, nitrogen, forming gas and high vacuum (specified for SiC post-implantation annealing and graphene growth).
  • Three custom made oxidation furnaces
  • oxidation in dry and wet oxygen as well as for post-oxidation annealing in nitric oxide.
  • JetFirst 200 benchtop RTP processor
  • RTP at temperatures up to 1200°C in high vacuum, nitrogen, oxygen, ammonia and forming gas.
  • High vacuum annealing facility with resistive heating based on Edwards 306 vacuum station.
Plasma processing
  • TEGAL Co. PLASMOD microwave asher
  • Resist stripping and descum
  • Plasma-Therm 790 series Reactive Ion Etching machine
  • RIE machine is using SF6, CHF3, O2, Ar gases and mixtures (RIE of silicon, silicon carbide, silicon dioxide, poly-silicon, polyimide, etc.)
Packaging and insulation
  • FINEPLACER® lambda Sub-Micron Bonding System
  • tpt HB16 wire bonder
  • PDS2010 parylene coater
  • Process control Equipmentiolet curing lamp
Process control equipment
  • Carl Zeiss Interference Microscope
  • Leitz Wetzlar Optical Microscope
  • Olympus BX41M  Microscope equipped with UV transparent optics and mercury lamp for UV illumination
  • Tencor P-1 Long Scan Profiler
  • KSV Instruments CAM-100 Contact Angle Meter
  • Filmetrics F40 Thin Film Thickness Measurement System
  • Probe station with Tektronix 577 curve tracer
  • Bruker D8 ADVANCE X-ray diffractometer

Electrical Power Research Lab

Power Electronics, Drives and Machines

The Electrical Power Research Lab is home to the Electrical Power Research Group. The Group carries out pioneering research using state-of-the-art equipment housed in a purpose-built research laboratory.

The Lab specialises in technologies used in transport, renewable energy, power networks, and low-cost manufacturing.

Dynamometers

Our test rigs are suitable for testing a large range of mechanical and electrical machines and drives for automotive and renewable applications.

Torquemeters 100kW Dynamometer
  • Speed rating to 30000 r/min
  • Torque rating to 477 N.m
  • High performance AC induction motors for drive/load
  • 100kW Control Techniques regenerative Unidrive inverter with current rating 210A‌=
Torquemeters 500kW Dynamometer
  • Speed rating to 20000 r/min
  • Torque rating to 2387 N.m
  • High performance AC induction motors for drive/load
  • 500kW Control Techniques regenerative Unidrive inverter with current rating 935A‌
Magtrol Custom Motor Test System
  • 70 kW
  • 2 quadrant operation
  • Low inertia
  • Smooth transition of torque profile‌
Control Techniques 10kW Dynamometer
  • Low power
  • Four-quadrant operation
  • Regenerates energy back into the grid‌
Control Techniques 15 kW Dynamometer
  • Low power
  • Four-quadrant operation
  • Regenerates energy back into the grid

Power supplies

Simulation of frequency, voltage, wave form, phase angles, and current for laboratory testing.

TDK-Lambda High Voltage Power Supply
  • 500 Volts / 30 Amps
  • 10 kW power supply
  • Switch mode‌
ET System EAC AC Source Power Supply
  • Variable power supply up to 350 Volts
  • Adjustable frequency up to 400MHz‌
TopCon Quadro DC Power Supply
  • Programmable DC Power Supply
  • 100 Volts / 120 Amps‌
TopCon Quadro DC Power Supply
  • Programmable DC Power Supply
  • 100 Volts / 200 Amps

We have a number of other units with different ranges. Contact us for further details.

Chambers

These chambers test the effects of specific environmental conditions on electronic devices and components.

Binder Environmental Simulation Chamber
  • Suitable for materials testing between -40°C and 180°C
  • Height: 600mm, width: 800mm, depth: 500mm
  • interior volume: 240 litres
  • Airflow design guarantees exact measurement‌
Cosmotec Industrial Water Chiller
  • Cooling capacity up to 16kW
  • Interior volume: 100 litres
  • High and low pressure switches
  • Designed to accurately control the temperature of the water or cooling liquid
LOC Air Oil Cooler
  • Optimised for industrial applications
  • Cooling capacity up to 25kW

Battery testing

Our range of testing equipment analyses electrochemical energy storage systems.

Biologic HCP-1005 Potentiostat/Galvanostat
  • High Current Potentiostat/Galvanostat/EIS
  • Voltage range from 0.6 - 5 V
  • Current range of 100 Amps
  • Can test industrial Li-ion battery modules

Simulation

An extensive range of computation facilities and specialist software supports our research.

MATLAB (Matrix Laboratory)
  • Numerical multi-physics computer program used to solve matrices
  • Allows interface with other computer programs written in C++, Java and Fortran‌
ANSYS
  • Engineering simulation software providing finite element analysis
  • Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) element‌
MAGNET
  • Finite element analysis software package for electric magnetics‌
JMAG
  • Simulation software for the design and development of electrical devices such as motors, actuators and circuit components‌
Simulink
  • Graphical multi-domain simulation software
  • Used for modelling, simulating, and analysing multi-domain dynamic systems‌
MotorCAD
  • Thermal analysis package
  • Considers both electromagnetic and thermal aspects of machines design‌
Sabre-RD
  • Desktop design and analysis of Power Electronic Systems
  • Multi-domain physical modelling capability‌
PLECS
  • Piecewise Linear Electrical Circuit Simulation
  • Simulation toolbox for system-level simulations of electrical circuits

Data

We use power measurement devices in our research to obtain data on voltages and currents.

Yokogawa WT1600 Digital Power Meter
  • Voltage range from 1.5 - 1000V
  • Measurement of large currents for evaluating large loads
  • Can measure extremely small currents in energy-saving equipment‌
Agilent Switch Unit 34970A
  • Multi-channel data logger
  • Three-slot mainframe with built-in GPIB and RS232 interfaces‌
Tektronix DPO 2014
  • Digital Power Oscilloscope
  • Four analogue channels
  • Up to 1 GS/s sample rate on all channels
  • 100 MHz bandwidth‌
Tektronix MSO 4034
  • Mixed Signal Oscilloscope
  • Four analogue channels
  • Up to 2.5 GS/s sample rate on all channels
  • 350 MHz bandwidth

We have a further two devices with an increased bandwidth of up to 700 MHz. Please contact us for more details.

Press

A heavy-duty shop press is used in metalwork applications where a lot of tonnage presses.

Baileigh Hydraulic Press

Heavy-duty shop press designed to handle 176 tonnes of pressure

  • Two-speed hydraulic system
  • 400V 3 phase motor
  • Manual or automatic operation

Microelectronic Characterisation Lab

Our electrical and material characterisation laboratory is climate controlled. In the lab, we perform an extensive array of tests on semiconductor devices and structures.

The Lab is open to all staff of the University as well as PhD and project students (BEng, MEng, and MSc). Charges might apply for use of equipment in the lab. 

Test capabilities include:

  • DC and RF 200mm probe stations for varied C-V and I-V analysis to 67GHz
  • low and high-frequency noise measurement
  • specialist facilities in electrical measurement for hostile environments
  • atomic force microscopy
  • Raman

Our Access Policy

Access to the lab is strictly limited to authorised personnel.

All work in the Characterisation Lab must take place between the hours of 09.00 - 17.00, Monday to Friday only (unless it is a public/bank holiday). This complies with the University health and safety policy.

Please note that there is NO food or drink allowed in the Characterisation Lab. Failure to comply will result in access revoked.

All users must leave the lab as fast as possible when the fire alarm sounds. Do not waste time by attempting to remove/store test samples currently on probe stations.

Keep up to date with the Safety Information on the University Safety Office website.

Training

Before getting access to the Characterisation Lab and using the equipment, all users must undergo training. Separate training is necessary for the use of every piece of equipment. There will be yearly lab access reviews.

Contact the Characterisation Lab Manager to arrange training to gain access to the lab or any of the equipment.

Booking equipment (Internal only)

You can book the test rig through the use of an Outlook calendar-based booking system.

Create a new appointment/meeting in the 'Chr Lab Booking' calendar, with the username and equipment booked on the 'Subject' of the appointment window. See the Connection to Characterisation Lab Booking Calendar (PDF: 544KB) for more detail.

Users are currently allowed to book equipment for as long as deemed necessary to complete their experiments. This is subject to change, depending on the number of users wanting to use certain equipment. The Characterisation Lab Manager will inform the affected users about any changes to this policy.

As there are currently no limitations in place (length and frequency of booking), we advise users to be considerate to other users when booking equipment.

If a session is no longer needed, you should cancel your bookings as soon as possible. We will take action against users who frequently book systems but fail to turn up.

Our equipment

  • Atomic Force Microscopy
  • Hall
  • Raman
  • High-Frequency Characterisation
  • High-Temperature Characterisation
  • Current Capacitance Characterisation (Teledyne)
  • Noise Characterisation

Contact us

Characterisation Lab Manager
  • Dr Kelvin Kwa
  • Room E4.12
  • Tel: 0191 208 5468
School Superintendent, Safety Officer
  • Dave Branch
  • Room E2.19
  • Tel: 0191 208 7334
Clean room Technician
  • Gary Potts
  • Room CRL1
  • Tel: 0191 208 8874

Modelling and Device Design

We are home to AIMPRO. This modelling technique calculates the structural, electrical, optical, and mechanical properties of molecules.

Techniques such as AIMPRO study Defect Engineering, which uses quantum-chemical methods to analyse dopants and other defects in crystalline materials to predict their optical, electronic, and other properties.

Technology Computer-Aided Design (TCAD)

‌The Emerging Technologies and Materials Group have developed some of the leading process TCAD models used worldwide, through a combination of physical experiments, atomistic calculations, and basic theory.

The models show to predict device parameters for advanced CMOS, such as strained Si/SiGe technology, with minimal calibration. TCAD models optimise c-Si photovoltaic (PV) technology.

Neuro-Prosthesis Lab

The Neuroprosthesis laboratory is part of the µSystems group at the School of Engineering, Newcastle.

Our primary interest is in developing neural stimulators and state of the art implantable systems for the new field of optogenetic neuroprosthesis.

We also hope to both generate new understanding in core neurobiology and use neuro inspired designs to make better circuits and systems.

Our Neuroprosthesis lab has facilities for electronic development, testing, research, and study. The lab includes the latest source measure units, oscilloscopes, soldering, and PCB prototyping facilities. It also contains an augmented reality testing environment with surround screen and emgain, Sony, and vuzix virtual reality headwear.

We have five high-power workstations for GPU and CUDA development, online servers with the Cadence design suite for advanced CMOS chip design, and the latest Xilinx FPGA's and associated tools for digital logic design. Additionally, we have software for PCB and MEMS mask development.

The School also has a Microelectronic Characterisation and two clean room facilities.

Read more about our work, with The Neuro Prosthesis Lab: Knowledge Centre (PDF: 144KB)

Our key interests

Optoelectronic Visual Prosthesis: For individuals whose sight has deteriorated to the extent that there is no longer any functional vision, we are investigating a revolutionary form of optoelectronic/optogenetic prosthesis method for returning vision.

Augmented Vision: is a method whereby we maximise the information throughput from the eye to the visual cortex by pre-filtering the visual scene and feeding this back to the patient through virtual reality headwear. This will be important for the retinal prosthesis itself, but can also provide benefit to those with partial vision loss.

Implantable Optogenetic Prosthesis: Optogenetics — the optical stimulation of neuron cells is a revolution in how we communicate with the nervous system. A great many forms of therapeutic prosthesis are now possible that were previously not feasible. We hope to develop some of the key optoelectronics in this field.

Neuro-Inspired Optoelectronics: When developing low power optoelectronics for implantable applications, maintaining efficient power consumption is critical. Through evolution, nature has already created many extremely efficient designs that we can use as blueprints for hard semiconductor equivalents.

Collaborating labs

Dr Neil, Dept. Physics, Imperial College, Photonic systems
Dr Botond Roska, FMI, Basel, Retinal Prosthesis
Prof. Ernst Bamberg, Max Planck Institute, Germany
LDr Pleun Maaskant, Tyndall Institute, Cork, Ireland
Scientifica Ltd, Maidenhead, UK
Ms Susan Downes, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, Opthalmology
Mr Richard Cheongleen, Western Eye Hospital, London
Dr. Ivo Lieberam, Kings College, London, Developmental Neurobiology

Dr Neil, Dept. Physics, Imperial College, Photonic systems
Dr Botond Roska, FMI, Basel, Retinal Prosthesis
Prof. Ernst Bamberg, Max Planck Institute, Germany
LDr Pleun Maaskant, Tyndall Institute, Cork, Ireland
Scientifica Ltd, Maidenhead, UK
Ms Susan Downes, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, Opthalmology
Mr Richard Cheongleen, Western Eye Hospital, London
Dr. Ivo Lieberam, Kings College, London, Developmental Neurobiology

Contact us

Neuroprosthesis Laboratory
School of Engineering
Newcastle University
Merz Court
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE17RU
United Kingdom

Principle Investigator: Dr Patrick Degenaar

Neuro-electronics

Our primary interest is in developing state of the art implantable systems. Along the way, we hope to better understand neural tissue that we aim to stimulate.

Find out more about our research into Hybrid Bio-Electronic Systems and CMOS-MEMS based Bio-microsystems.

Hybrid Bio-Electronic Systems

Next-generation brain-machine interfaces will consist of hybrid networks, where individual neurons will be directly connected to electronics in a real-time closed-loop system. This will allow for further investigation into the behaviour and functionality of the brain, increasing our knowledge of the most complex system known to man.

Further, by creating a hybrid bio-electronic network future neural prosthesis may offer the ability to influence the behaviour of neural circuits, presenting the opportunity to restore, repair, or replace damaged brain regions. This technology could have implications with a wide range of medical conditions, including epilepsy and Parkinson’s.

The development of this technology will rely heavily on the electronic design, in particular, low-power but high-performing processing platforms.

Therefore, the research objectives of this project are:

  • To investigate the potential of reconfigurable hardware in hybrid systems
  • To implement a complete model of a central pattern generator and to connect this model to an in-vitro biological system, to investigate the behaviour and dynamics of the hybrid network
  • To develop an optimised single-chip spiking neural network platform capable of large-scale simulation
CMOS-MEMS based Bio-microsystem

Microsystems based on interplay between CMOS and MEMS technologies are a promising way for neuroprosthesis. Traditionally the biomedical circuits are custom-built and heavily optimised for a specific application, which makes it expensive and time-consuming to adapt them for new healthcare objectives.

The CMOS-MEMS integration technologies will achieve closed-loop control system with multi-sensors and multi-actuators. Different types of typical biomedical MEMS sensors (pressure sensor, accelerometer, recording microelectrodes) and actuators (motor, optical stimulator, stimulation microelectrodes) will be integrated into this proposed microsystem for diverse neuroprosthesis applications.

Relevant conference papers
  • Jun Wen Luo, Terrence Mak, Peter Andras, Alex Yakovlev FPGA-based simulation of the pyloric circuit of the crab stomatogastric ganglionNeuroscience 2012 , New Orleans, October 2012
  • Graeme Coapes, Terrence Mak, Jun Wen Luo, and Alex Yakovlev, Chi-Sang Poon scalable FPGA-based design for field programmable large-scale ion simulations International Conference on Field Programmable Logic and Applications ,Oslo, Norway, August, 2012
  • Jun Wen Luo, Terrence Mak, Bo Yu, Peter Andras, Alex Yakovlev Towards Neuro-Silicon Interface Using Reconfigurable Dynamic EMBCBoston, USA, January 2011
Relevant journal papers
  • Banks DJ, Degenaar P, Toumazou C. Low-power pulse-width-modulated neuromorphic spiking circuit allowing signed double byte data transfer along a single channel. Electronics Letters 2007, 43(13), 704-706.
  • Nikolic K, Loizu J, Degenaar P, Toumazou C. Noise reduction in analogue computation of Drosophilia photoreceptors. Journal of Computational Electronics 2008, 7(3), 458-461.
  • Degenaar P, Constandinou TG, Toumazou C. Adaptive ON-OFF spiking photoreceptor. Electronics Letters 2006, 42(4), 196-198.
  • Banks DJ, Degenaar P, Toumazou C. Distributed current-mode image processing filters. Electronics Letters 2005, 41(22), 1201-1202.

Retinal prosthesis

Our work in the Neuroprosthesis lab is to develop the optoelectronics to make retinal prosthesis treatment work.

According to the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), there are two million people with visual impairment in the UK, of which 180,922 were registered as partially sighted in 2005. The most common cause of impairment is

  • retinal degeneration (48.5%)
  • glaucoma (11.5%)
  • diabetic retinopathy (3.4%)

While proportions of hereditary diseases such as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) remain fixed, the increasingly ageing population and expanding waistlines are enhancing the prevalence of aged related macula degenerations and diabetic retinopathies respectively.

Furthermore, the rate of retinopathies in premature babies is around 16%. The (American) National Federation for the Blind estimates that it costs the state $600,000 in a lifetime of support and unpaid taxes for each blind person. The social cost to the individual is of course incalculable.

While refractive errors are corrected with glasses and cataracts via surgery, degeneration of the photoreceptor cells is much less treatable. In particular, despite ongoing research into gene, drug, and stem cell therapies, there is no treatment for Retinitis Pigmentosa. Thus, restoration of vision through optobionic means is presently the main hope for this patient group.

Optogenetic Retinal Prosthesis

Retinal implants to date have used electrical stimulus to stimulate either the retinal ganglion cells and/or the remaining retinal circuitry layers (i.e. bipolar and amacrine cells). They are powered via electrical cable, wireless telemetry, or via optical IR illumination. Both sub-retinal and epi-retinal approaches show to be capable of generating phosphene percepts, but Neuroelectronic interfaces suffer from many fundamental drawbacks:

  • electrical stimulus can excite neurons but not inhibit them
  • it's not possible to target individual cells or receptive fields with present technology
  • scalability to large arrays of electrodes is difficult
  • power dissipation in the retina becomes a problem for large arrays of stimulators

The electrical response elicited by neuron cells results from changes in differential ion concentrations across the cell membrane. Action potentials in particular result from the activity of electric field gated ion channels. Thus the traditional electrical stimulation method aims to activate these channels with electrical impulses. However, the difficulty in placing the electrodes near the desired neuron and the propagation of the electric field disallows exact control.

Thus, if it were possible to control the ion channels directly with a remote control light source, there would be many advantages. At the end of 2003, a light-activated ion channel called Channelrhodopsin was discovered in the swamp algae. Since then there has been an explosion of research demonstrating the ability to control many different parts of the nervous system with this technique.

Genetically introduced light-gated channels provide a unique opportunity to develop a whole new class of retinal prosthesis. A photostimulation-based prosthesis would be fully external, would not suffer the power problems of electrical stimulation, and could be easily tuned and upgraded. The basis for our work in the Neuroprosthesis lab is to develop the optoelectronics to make this work.

Journal papers
  • Al-Atabany W, McGovern B, Mehran K, Berlinguer-Palmini R, Degenaar P. A processing platform for optoelectronic/optogenetic retinal prosthesis. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering 2011, 1-10.
  • McGovern B, Palmini RB, Grossman N, Drakakis E, Poher V, Neil MAA, Degenaar P. A New Individually Addressable Micro-LED Array for Photogenetic Neural Stimulation. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems 2010, 4(6, part 2), 469-476.
  • Grossman N, Poher V, Grubb MS, Kennedy GT, Nikolic K, McGovern B, Palmini RB, Gong Z, Drakakis EM, Neil MAA, Dawson MD, Burrone J, Degenaar P. Multi-site optical excitation using ChR2 and micro-LED array. Journal of Neural Engineering 2010, 7(1), 016004.
  • Huang Y, Drakakis EM, Degenaar P, Toumazou C. A CMOS image sensor with light-controlled oscillating pixels for an investigative optobionic retinal prosthesis system. Microelectronics Journal 2009, 40(8), 1202-1211.
  • Degenaar P. Elucidating the nervous system with channelrhodopsins. Cell Science Reviews 2009, 6(1), 1-13.
  • Kim H, Degenaar P, Kim Y. Insertion of a cytochrome c protein into a complex lipid monolayer under an electric field. Journal of Physical Chemistry C 2009, 113(32), 14377-14380.
  • Degenaar P, Grossman N, Memon MA, Burrone J, Dawson M, Drakakis E, Neil M, Nikolic K. Optobionic vision: a new genetically enhanced light on retinal prosthesis. Journal of Neural Engineering 2009, 6(3), 035007.

Augmented vision

Find out about our research work in the field of Augmented Vision.

Retinal degenerative disease can lead to very poor vision, and in some cases (Retinitis Pigmentosa) complete blindness. As the conditions progress, daily tasks such as reading and determining people’s faces become increasingly difficult. Retinal prosthesis will at least in this initial period, also not restore perfect vision.

Because of this, there is great scope for electronic systems that maximise the useful information transmitted to the user. Textures that help us to distinguish between wood and plastic are perhaps less important in comparison to being able to distinguish between a table and a chair.

As such, augmented vision systems aim to re-interpret the visual world so as to emphasise the key features of that world.

Research

We are investigating information acquisition and processing systems to perform augmented visual tasks. In particular, it is of crucial importance to develop architectures that are scalable to portable solutions. As such we have been emphasising GPU and power-efficient processing architectures.

We have been developing a functional model of the degenerate retina by performing patient trials in the John Radcliffe (Oxford) and Western Eye (London) Hospitals.

We aim to develop a set of image enhancement algorithms that are most effective at improving visual recognition. We are also using our knowledge of the incredibly efficient parallel processing structures of the retina to implement our algorithms in highly efficient silicon architectures.

At present, we use commercial virtual reality headwear but are investigating more compact systems.

Relevant Journal papers
  • Al-Atabany W, McGovern B, Mehran K, Berlinguer-Palmini R, Degenaar P. A processing platform for optoelectronic/optogenetic retinal prosthesis. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering 2011, 1-10.
  • Al-Atabany WI, Memon MA, Downes SM, Degenaar PA. Designing and testing scene enhancement algorithms for patients with retina degenerative disorders. BioMedical Engineering Online 2010, 9, 27.
  • Al-Atabany W, Tong T, Degenaar P. Improved content aware scene retargeting for retinitis pigmentosa patients. BioMedical Engineering OnLine 2010, 9, 52.

Sensors, Electromagnetics and Acoustics Lab

This laboratory develops world-leading research in wireless sensor systems and communications within extreme environments.

‌The Sensors, Electromagnetics and Acoustics Lab is ideal for controlled experiments on acoustic and electromagnetic transmission through various mediums.

The laboratory facilitates new technology developments in wireless communication networks operating within compartmentalised steel structures. It also includes developments through-hull communications and sub-sea to air communications, and low-cost sonar imaging.

These technologies have widespread applications in the defence, utility, and oil and gas sectors.

The facility includes:

  • a large (3m x 2m x 2m) tank filled with fresh or saline water
  • anechoic-lined tank to produce the ideal conditions for acoustic experiments and calibration
  • steel-walled enclosure positioned next to the tank to provide water-steel-air transmission paths. We experiment with electromagnetic transmissions through steel-hulled vessels or compartments without leakage paths.
  • signal/spectrum analysers
  • hydrophones
  • EM probes
  • power amplifiers
  • design tools for the development of experimental prototypes and production designs. This includes prototype design software, electromagnetic modelling software, and embedded software/firmware tools.
  • office and laboratory bench space to support the above activities

The laboratory also provides test equipment for external sites. These can be through the use of the University's research vessel The Princess Royal or test sites provided by industrial partners.

The test equipment includes:

  • remote operated vehicles to enable flexible underwater deployment of sensors or communication hardware
  • underwater cameras for easy inspection of submerged installations
  • portable EM instrumentation to identify interference sources
  • heavy duty IP67 portable computers for field trials of new products
  • survey-grade GPS unit to enable precise positioning and tracking in communication trials

Smart Grid

The Smart Grid Lab and Energy Storage Test Bed are unique grid-connected facilities that enable investigation of future energy systems at Newcastle Helix.

A combined £2m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funds the Smart Grid Lab and Energy Storage Bed, Newcastle University, and industrial partners Northern Powergrid and Siemens.

These key facilities are part of Newcastle’s £200m flagship project at Newcastle Helix, bringing together academia, the public sector, communities, business, and industry to create a global centre for urban innovation and sustainability.

A partnership between Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council founds Newcastle Helix. This develops an exemplar of a smart, sustainable, resilient city that links energy, transport, and digital infrastructure in an urban context.

Located on the former Scottish & Newcastle Brewery industrial site in the heart of Newcastle, Newcastle Helix is the perfect environment for exploring digitally enabled urban sustainability, and for demonstrating innovation that can benefit the local region and beyond.

What is a Smart Grid?

Smart grids have the potential to be a key enabler for countries worldwide to make the low carbon transition, but also to address the energy trilemma of security, affordability, and sustainability.

A smart grid is part of an electricity power system which can intelligently integrate the actions of all users connected to it — generators, consumers and those that do both – in order to efficiently deliver sustainable, economic and secure electricity supplies.

It uses real-time information on network operation and energy consumption, and generation to manage our future energy networks in a way that is more affordable, sustainable, and secure. To achieve this, our smart energy networks of tomorrow will need to enable and integrate new low carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles, renewable energy generation, and heat pumps to be widely adopted.

Smart grids also have the potential to:

  • Help increase environmental sustainability
  • Reduce energy network outages and disruptions
  • Improve operational efficiency of the UK's networks
  • Help lower cost of energy storage, transmission, and distribution
  • Increase the resilience and security of energy networks

Smart Grid lab features

The focus of our Smart Grid Lab is the simulation of distribution networks under future scenarios.

An integral part of this system is a real-time network simulator (RTNS). This allows for detailed real-time simulation of networks using sophisticated models that can interact with the physical laboratory environment.

Full integration

The RTNS and the control systems platform are fully integrated with the LV (low voltage) network of the laboratory.

This flexible AC system can be fully controllable in terms of amplitude, frequency, harmonic content, and independent control of phase angle.

This reconfigurable LV network also features flexible line impedances, which can enable the evaluation of networks with different X/R ratios.

Autonomy

The smart grid system operates decoupled from the grid or even with soft open points between different areas of the LV network using a flexible power converter.

This converter allows three-phase or single-phase real or reactive power to flow between different distribution networks.

Emulation

Emulated PV and other distributed generators are also integrated into the laboratory system, as well as a set of controllable real and reactive load banks.

A reprogrammable energy storage emulator system with the ability to emulate several battery types and energy storage technologies, including Li-Ion and fuel cells, is fully integrated with the laboratory.

A commercial energy storage system that enables islanded capability of the laboratory is also available.

Real-time network simulation models

Real-time network simulation models can interact with the laboratory via a digital link to a three-phase, four-quadrant inverter drive capable of delivering fully controllable voltage waveforms and events.

This arrangement provides the power-hardware-in-the-loop (PHIL) emulation platform, which facilitates the real experimental LV network to interact with the large-scale network model simulated by RTNS in real-time.

Fully instrumented

Fully instrumented, high-speed communications and instrumentation system utilising National Instruments and high speed, FPGA based systems.

Allows detailed investigation of the LV networks and the smart grid components.

Smart loads

Smart home appliances such as a smart washing machine and a smart load have also been installed.

In addition, there is an EV charge post which enables the charge cycles of real EVs to interact with the systems within the laboratory.

Smart grid control systems

A smart grid network management system, featuring a state estimator and optimised power flow (OPF) technology.

Additionally, energy management software system for micro-grids is integrated into the laboratory.

Energy management software for micro-grids is also integrated with the generation, load, and storage devices.

Flexible low voltage grid

A four-wire three-phase experimental low voltage AC and DC network, which enables investigation of AC and DC power systems.

This flexible system can be fully controllable in terms of amplitude, voltage, frequency, harmonic content, and independent control of phase.

This reconfigurable LV network also features flexible line impedances, which enables the evaluation of networks with different X/R ratios.

Energy storage test bed

This grid-connected facility houses a variety of electrical energy storage (EES) technologies. From fast-response systems, e.g Supercapacitors, to slower but more energy-dense technologies, e.g. NaNiCl2 and Redox Flow batteries, to support a plethora of grid services and case studies.

Energy storage is a potential game-changer for the UK.

The country will be a global leader in energy storage, which may provide £10 billion in benefits by 2020 and over £120 billion by 2050.

It provides many services to the grid to make the energy network more efficient, secure, and lower in carbon emissions.

Moreover, due to technology advances and economies of scale the cost of large-scale and small-scale energy storage is predicted to plummet in the next 10 years.

There is a range of benefits that energy storage technologies can offer to increasing energy efficiency and stabilising grid infrastructure including:

  • balancing supply with demand
  • increasing the use of renewable energy generation to decarbonise the grid
  • managing imbalances on the grid
  • hedging against fluctuating energy demand and availability
    What the Energy Storage Test Bed offers

The facility can also interface with any other EES technology across a wide range of technical specifications, or even emulate technologies through dedicated battery emulators. In addition to the actual grid, the facility can virtually connect to emulated networks using a sophisticated Real-Time Network Simulator.

Key specifications and capabilities of the Energy Storage Test Bed

Actual grid-connection through a bi-directional AC/DC power converter rated at 360kVA linked with the 400V Newcastle Helix electrical network and then on to Northern Powergrid’s distribution network, allowing for active and reactive power flows control and provision of ancillary services (e.g. frequency support, power quality improvement etc.).

Controllable DC bus carrying a number of DC/DC converters able to interface and fully control voltages and currents of up to nine different EES systems and/or combinations of those with other energy systems (e.g. Photovoltaics (PVs), third party power converter systems, etc.).

DC/DC converters provide a range of voltages from 0V up to 700V at 90kW each. All power converters are built around a reprogrammable hardware platform and controlled by high-performance, real-time control units.

Software design is open, flexible and based on Matlab/Simulink® so users can easily create new applications from the ground up, and test the performance of newly designed control methodologies from the highest level (e.g. coordination and control of power flow between the batteries and the grid responding to network requirements) down to the lowest level (e.g. PWM control, battery management).

Programming extensions using popular human-machine interfaces e.g. web-browsers, or via application programming interfaces (API) integrated with scripting languages.

Multiple communication interfaces (e.g. CAN, Modbus, EtherCAT) allowing interfacing with any third party system (e.g. Battery Management Systems (BMSs), Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technologies).

Real-Time Network Simulator that links directly with the power converters greatly increasing research capabilities. Battery and PV emulators are also present at the facility allowing for a multitude of different scenarios to test.

Work with us

Here you can find out just a few of the ways we can work with you.

Operate and test your technology

In an actual or emulated grid at a range of scales (i.e. domestic, commercial, local, or regional capacities) before deployment into the field. Evaluate the impacts in real-time.

Carry out continuous, long-term tests

On your battery system (e.g. round trip efficiency and degradation) for a specific real-world application or emulated charge/ discharge cycles. Facilitate a cost-benefit analysis for a proposed application.

Benchmark your system

See how your system compares to other technologies. Identify interdependencies and complementarities of different technologies and propose optimised hybrid solutions.

Emulate an EES technology

Through dedicated emulators, reduce your development costs.

Develop optimised control systems

For both battery management and its connection with the grid.

Investigate V2G (vehicle to grid) technologies

And the optimal utilisation of car battery systems.

Provision of expertise

to assess possible alternative applications for second-life batteries.

Compare different EES technologies

For a portfolio of grid services and investigate their impact in real time. Recommend which technology fits best a specific application and identify optimal solutions for maximising grid support and profits.

Facilitate development of regulations

And standards for EES.

Investigate the challenges and opportunities

Linking EES technologies with other systems e.g. renewables in an actual microgrid to create win-win solutions.

Contact us

If you are a business based in the UK, we may also be able to provide financial assistance to address your smart grid or energy storage needs through our ‘Innovation Fund’, especially if a proposed project will help encourage a longer term, mutually beneficial collaborative relationship.

Please do get in touch if you would like to learn more.

Martin Feeney
School of Engineering
Merz Court
+44 (0)191 208 2931
martin.feeney@ncl.ac.uk

µSystems Lab

The µSystems Research Group is a prolific developer of original design flows and software design tools for microelectronic systems.

The µSystems Lab makes wide-ranging use of Europratice software and has licences for extensive CAD packages. It has links with Intel, Atmel, and Sun for chip fabrication.

We can perform feasibility studies, prototyping, testing and characterisation of advanced ICs in 65nm CMOS processes and beyond. Several demonstrator ASICs have recently been designed and fabricated through Europractice (arbiters, microcontrollers, A2D and T2D converters, synchronisers, cryptoblocks, on-chip time measurement circuits, on-chip communication links). For more information see the async.org.uk chip gallery.

‌Features of the microsystems lab include:

  • original design flows and software design tools for microelectronic systems
  • extensive use of Europractice software
  • links with Intel, Atmel and Sun for chip fabrication
  • hardware and software facilities for FPGA-based design, using Xilinx and Altera kits
  • software such as Xilinx ISE, FPGA Advantage, MG Modelsim, Cadence Xilinx Parser
  • prototyping T2D converters, synchronizer characterisation circuits
  • CPU with concurrent error detection asynchronous testers
  • microprocessor and microcontroller development systems including ARM-based units
  • Agilent 6GHz Infinium 54855A oscilloscope
  • Pattern Generator 81133A
  • Logic Analysis system 16902A/16910A
  • access to high-temperature (in excess of 300C) testing equipment for digital and analogue memory circuit IP cores
  • advanced ICs in 65nm CMOS processes
  • several demonstrator ASICs fabricated through Europractice (arbiters, microcontrollers, A2D and T2D converters, synchronisers, cryptoblocks, on-chip time measurement circuits, on-chip communication links)

We also hold licences for extensive CAD packages including:

  • Cadence - full IC Package
  • Synopsys - front-end tools such as DC, PhC, Design Vision, Prime Time and Verification
  • Mentor Graphics
  • Handshake Solutions