Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Surface science

This research area focuses on understanding the structure, processes, dynamics and functionality of surfaces and interfaces, and how they determine chemical and physical properties.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This research area focuses on understanding the structure, processes, dynamics and functionality of surfaces and interfaces, and how these determine chemical and physical properties. Development of novel tools and techniques forms a key aspect of research in this area. Research into specific materials falls within the most relevant materials research area; research into surface science for catalysis would fall within the Catalysis research area.

We intend this research area to become more cohesive and connected to the users of its outputs, while contributing to key challenges. This will require support with strong leadership, key skills training, increased links with end-users and greater collaboration for the sharing of infrastructure.


We have three aims.

Develop strong leadership

Our aim is for the community to be encouraged to develop strong leadership in order to provide a clear direction for this research area and to foster cohesion across a broad range of interests. This would enable researchers to work together to respond to key challenges, including those specific to the field, such as in the sourcing and provision of infrastructure.

Contribution to other research areas

Our aim is for the community to consider the contribution that surface science can make to challenges in a range of other research areas – for example, the development of novel techniques to study biological interfaces. This would ensure that opportunities for collaboration in new areas are identified and explored.

Reflect end users’ needs

Our aim is for a greater proportion of research to reflect end users’ needs, with collaboration at an early stage to design research in a way that incorporates understanding of industrial requirements. This would enable translation of transformative and novel research. This will maximise the impact that surface science expertise and techniques can bring to societal challenges, pulling through exciting new tools, techniques and approaches into industry via mutually beneficial collaborations.

Training and collaboration

We would like to see training focused on core skills and techniques in surface and interface science that will ensure the future supply of researchers in this area and equip researchers to address industry’s future needs. This will ensure the long-term health of the discipline, while also providing surface science expertise to address a range of research challenges across a number of sectors important to the UK economy.

In a constrained capital environment, there is a continued need for the community to work together to explore creative solutions for equipment funding and support, for example by seeking leverage from alternative sources.

Existing investments should be maximised through collaboration arrangements to enable sharing of equipment, in order for UK researchers to remain competitive. If necessary, we will facilitate community discussion on this to aid development of a coherent approach to future capital investment and support.

Why we're doing it

Surface science research and the development of novel techniques in this field underpins discovery across engineering and physical sciences.

This area is important for a number of sectors, including, for example:

  • coatings
  • manufacturing – for example, formulation science
  • engineering – understanding corrosion
  • electronics
  • information and communication technologies (ICT)
  • healthcare technologies – for example, novel sensor and drug delivery technologies, and biomaterials and tissue engineering
  • pharma
  • aerospace and defence
  • marine engineering – biofouling
  • energy
  • transport.

Surface science is also important for developments in advanced materials, to understand the surfaces and surface properties of novel materials and material interfaces.

There is a significant concentration of core surface science research in a small number of institutions in the UK, with a few key groups undertaking high-quality, fundamental research in this area. However, overall diversification within the area has led to expertise becoming more distributed in the landscape as researchers have moved into a wider range of application areas and increased their academic collaborations with other research areas and disciplines.

This focus on broad applications has led to the area lacking cohesion. Strong leadership is needed to bring together researchers from across a range of interests to focus on challenges within the field.

There is a good balance between research and training investment in our portfolio in this area, with training delivered across all available schemes. To ensure the area’s long-term health, greater focus is needed on delivering core training in key surface and interface science skills and techniques.

Due to the requirement for highly specialised, bespoke equipment, surface science research is capital intensive and expensive to undertake. This can make it difficult for researchers to become established.

The community also relies heavily on access to national and international facilities such as:

A new approach to equipment management, sharing and provision will be needed for researchers in this area to remain competitive.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for Surface Science.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Last updated: 12 September 2023

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