Surface science

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 aim for this research area to become more cohesive and connected to the users of its outputs, whilst 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.

During the current Delivery Plan period, we aim 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 will enable researchers to work together to maximise the opportunities available in responding to key challenges (including those specific to the field, such as in the sourcing and provision of infrastructure)
  • The community to consider the contribution that Surface Science can make to challenges in a range of other research areas (e.g. the development of novel techniques to study biological interfaces), to ensure that opportunities for collaboration in new areas are identified and explored
  • 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, to 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

During the current Delivery Plan period, 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 (e.g. seeking leverage from alternative sources). Existing investments should be maximised via 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.


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 (Evidence source 1,2), including, for instance: coatings, (Evidence source 3) manufacturing (e.g. formulation science). (Evidence source 4). engineering (understanding corrosion), electronics, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), healthcare technologies (e.g. novel sensor and drug delivery technologies, and biomaterials and tissue engineering) (Evidence source 5), pharma, aerospace and defence, marine engineering (biofouling), energy and 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 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 (Evidence source 6). 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 (Evidence source 7). 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 / international facilities such as Diamond Light Source, the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, the XMas beamline at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble. A new approach to equipment management, sharing and provision will be needed for researchers in this area to remain competitive.

This research area has the potential to contribute to most EPSRC Outcomes, particularly to the Productive and Healthy Nation Outcomes. Examples of relevant Ambitions include:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

Understanding of phenomena at surfaces and interfaces helps in controlling physical processes and in underpinning development of novel tools and techniques, as well as new materials.

H2: Improve prevention and public health

H5: Advance non-medicinal interventions

Increased understanding of surfaces' structure, function and properties can lead to new insights into antimicrobial resistance and enable development of novel surfaces and materials to aid its prevention.

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

This area will underpin advances in drug delivery methods (targeting, functionalisation, encapsulation and physical/chemical release), biocompatible and implantable materials development, and new approaches to the manufacture of future therapies.

  1. EPSRC, Sovereign Capability report, (2015).
  2. Government Office for Science, Technology and Innovation Futures: UK Growth Opportunities for the 2020s (PDF), (2012 refresh).
  3. Surface Engineering and Advanced Coatings Special Interest Group (SEAC SIG), Time for Strategic Change: UK Surface Engineering and Advanced Coatings Industry (PDF), (2014).
  4. National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Metrology for the 2020s (PDF), (2013).
  5. Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering in the UK, (2013).
  6. EPSRC, Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 panel workshop, (2016).
  7. EPSRC community engagement (individual input and group feedback), including an EPSRC Surface Science Focus Group, (2016).

Other source:

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in Surface Science (GoW)
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Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Rosanna Greenop
Job title: Temporarily Covering
Organisation: EPSRC