Fundamental Characterisation for Nanotechnology


The Fundamental Characterisation for Nanotechnology course provides a justification for materials characterisation, and a framework for considering strategic and tactical issues. It also gives an overview of the most common techniques and methodologies available to determine the nature and composition of nanoparticles (both organic and inorganic), thin films and nanostructures.

The course presents generic descriptions of techniques and methodologies, together with representative case studies. In addition to the course material and online tutorials, the course incorporates interactive team projects, whereby iterative 'proposals' are presented to experts, who then provide feedback and guidance for further development.

The course includes a residential weekend in Oxford, where students have an opportunity to see the latest characterisation methods at the University of Oxford's Begbroke Science Park.

The Fundamental Characterisation for Nanotechnology online course can be taken:

Materials characterisation is the use of external techniques to probe into the internal structure and properties of a material or object. This course will be of interest to you if you are faced with questions such as:

  • What are the attributes of a given material?
  • Are the attributes of the material those intended, were promised, or were led to expect?
  • Is our chosen materials processing route, or device fabrication route, working as intended, or as it did yesterday?

In answering these questions, the course takes a trouble-shooting approach to nanoparticle characterisation, beginning with the material or object:

  1. Identifying the information that is required;
  2. Formulating an approach to obtaining that information;
  3. Making a rational choice of techniques and methodologies;
  4. Giving due regard to efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

The course also introduces the key methods and approaches used in materials characterisation for nanotechnology and offers guidance as to when and how each technique is best used.

Programme details

The Fundamental Characterisation for Nanotechnology course begins in April and runs for ten weeks. The course is divided into ten units, each of which is designed to take approximately one week to study:

  • An introduction to what is meant by materials characterisation;
  • The essential elements of the physical basis for x-ray and electron diffraction;
  • Imaging, optical and electron-optical microscopies - imaging at the macroscale to the nanoscale;
  • Micro- and nano-analytical techniques;
  • Scanning probe techniques - physical principles and generic methodologies;
  • Spectroscopies - techniques, with emphasis on surface and film analysis;
  • Physical chemical techniques;
  • Tactical and practical aspects of materials characterisation;
  • A review of problems and further reading;
  • An overview of strategic issues - synthesis and summary.

There will also be live online tutorials, normally once each week.

Characterisation Weekend

At the end of the taught part of the course, students attend a weekend in Oxford at the University of Oxford's Begbroke Science Park in association with BegbrokeNano, a well-established focus of characterisation expertise, and one of the UK Technology Strategy Board's Micro and Nanotechnology (MNT) Centres.

During the weekend students are given information on the latest techniques for nanoparticle characterisation and some of the latest pieces of equipment from manufacturers are demonstrated. Explanations of the principles behind the techniques and demonstrations of the equipment allow students to gain an understanding of how best to characterise nanomaterials.

Over the two days, the presentations, discussions and demonstrations focus on characterisation and problem-solving in surface and interface science and technology as well as characterisation of nanoparticles and nanostructures. In particular, the following groups of techniques are considered:

  • Surface specific electron spectroscopic (XPS) and spectrometric (SIMS) techniques;
  • Electron-optical analytical and imaging (EPMA/WDS, SEM/EDS, TEM/EDS, HRTEM) techniques;
  • Photon spectroscopic (IR and Raman probes) and thin-film profilometry techniques;
  • Scanning probe (AFM in various operational modes) and stylus (Dektak) techniques;
  • Light scattering for particle characterisation (particle analysis, dynamic light scattering, centrifugal sedimentation, laser diffraction).

What to expect

Overall the course has been designed so that students can study it in the way that works for them. However you want to study, we are aware that this is easiest to do if you are given some idea of how to get the most out of the course. We advise that:

  • Most students should expect to spend between 10 and 15 hours each week on independent study in addition to the timetabled tutorials, including all reading, writing and thinking about the course;
  • Each unit should take approximately a week to study. The units will make the most sense if studied in the order in which they are presented but can be studied in any order;
  • There are a series of review questions designed to let students know whether they have understood a unit, whilst other activities make them draw their learning together;
  • Students should work on the module level activities in parallel with studying the main materials.


  • The course is offered part-time so students can complete it whilst continuing to work full-time;
  • The online weeks of the course can be completed from anywhere in the world;
  • An induction course site helps to ease students into the course and familiarise themselves with the online course environment, with the added benefit of enabling them to introduce themselves to other participants;
  • Tutors provide online support and replicate electronically the famed Oxford tutorial system;
  • The course has a dedicated tutor, course director and administration team accustomed to supporting students undertaking distance learning courses;
  • Students have access to staff at the University of Oxford’s Begbroke Science Park and Department of Materials, particularly the Course Director, Dr Christiane Norenberg;
  • The residential weekend provides an introduction to the practical elements of nanotechnology and equipment demonstrations;
  • The weekend gives students the opportunity to meet one another and tutors face-to-face to enhance learning and group work;
  • Throughout the course, students can use the University of Oxford’s unrivalled electronic library resources to enable them to complete the assignment tasks.


Short course participants who do not wish to undertake the assessed work required for academic credit, but who do satisfy the course participation requirements, will receive a certificate of completion.

Those successfully completing the course with academic credit can apply to receive a CATS point transcript.


Description Costs
22-23 & earlier enrolled - MSc in Nanotechnology for M&HC £2475.00
Standalone fee for 2024-2025 (online module) £3685.00
Students enrolled on MSc in Nanotechnology for M&HC £2570.00


Details of funding opportunities, including grants, bursaries, loans, scholarships and benefit information are available on our financial assistance page.


The course fee includes:

  • Tuition;
  • Full online course materials through our bespoke virtual learning environment (VLE);
  • Access to the Bodleian Libraries e-Resources;
  • Refreshments and lunch on both days of the Characterisation weekend;
  • Transportation between Oxford city centre to the course venue on both days of the Characterisation weekend.

Before making your application for this short course, please ensure that you have read the terms and conditions which can be found towards the bottom of this page.

Please see the Postgraduate Certificate in Nanotechnology page for more information regarding fees when taking this course as a part of the PGCert Programme.


Dr Frank Dillon


Frank Dillon graduated in Chemistry from the National University of Ireland, Cork in 2002. He obtained an Innovation Partnership Grant from Enterprise Ireland and Intel Ireland in order to carry out his PhD research in Materials Chemistry under the supervision of Prof Trevor Spalding. His work centred on the synthesis of carbon nanotubes as thermal conductors and reinforcing materials in mesoporous silica based composites and resulted in the award of his PhD in 2006 for the Development of carbon nanotube reinforced ceramic materials. Subsequently, he worked in the Tyndall National Institute, Cork with the Advanced Materials and Surfaces group as a post-doctoral fellow with Professor Martyn Pemble. The group is primarily concerned with the growth, characterisation and infiltration of photonic crystal based systems and, as part of this effort, Frank was invited to the Physics Department in Macquarie University, Sydney as a visiting fellow for a month in spring 2008.

He joined the Nanomaterials Group in the Department of Materials, Oxford University in July 2008.

The focus of his is to develop the great potential of carbon nanotube-inorganic hybrids and show that new scientific horizons will be opened by material combinations and their synergistic functions, rather than optimization of one particular material. Carbon nanotubes have highly tunable surface areas, aspect ratios and hollow cavities which make them ideal templates for size-controlled inorganic nanoparticles, nanotubes and nanowires respectively. These hybrid materials merge the properties of the components in a way that creates new enhanced properties and increases the robustness of the inorganic nanomaterials. These nanocomposites are expected to have excellent applicability toward various technologies such as catalysis and composites along with energy related areas such as photocatalysis, batteries and supercapacitors.

Dr Christiane Norenberg

Director & Tutor

Christiane is the Nanotechnology Programme Manager at the University of Oxford's Begbroke Science Park. She received her DPhil in Materials Science from the University of Oxford in 1998 and continued with postdoctoral research. In 2001, Christiane was awarded the Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship for her work on the growth and characterisation of nanostructures on semiconductor surfaces. After a period as a lecturer at the Multidisciplinary Nanotechnology Centre at Swansea University, Christiane returned to Oxford in 2007 to take up her present post.

Her interests and expertise are in the areas of surface science, growth and characterisation of nanostructures on surfaces, and nanotechnology in general. Christiane also teaches nanoscience and materials science at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Dr Neil Young


Neil is the Facility Manager of the David Cockayne Centre for Electron Microscopy and faculty member in the Department of Materials. He manages the Departments teaching and training in electron microscopy as well as strategy and daily operation of the facilities within the EM centre. He is particularly focused on developing expertise and applications in advanced TEM techniques such as HRTEM, STEM and electron exit-wave function restoration. He teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in materials characterisation and EM.

Neil studied physics at Birmingham University and also obtained a PhD in Nanoscale Physics from Birmingham in 2007. Personal research interests include the atomic-level characterisation of functional nanoparticles, with a particular interest in structure-property studies of catalysts. Neil uses advanced instrumentation such as the Oxford-JEOL 2200MCO aberration-corrected microscope in addition to aberration-corrected in-situ and ETEM facilities around the world to investigate the structure and dynamics of catalyst particles

In his spare time Neil likes to travel, go scuba diving and work in his garden.

Course aims

The principal objectives of the course are to:

  • Provide an overview of methods and techniques available for characterising materials relevant to nanoscale technologies;
  • Develop a framework for effective and reliable use of resources that are available for characterisation of objects whose properties depend on meso- and nanoscale structure;
  • Provide the basic tools for formulating a plan of attack for obtaining relevant, reliable and cost-effective information;
  • Acquire the background to survey the literature and to hold informed discussions with relevant experts.


Assessment methods

Assessment will be based on submission of written assignments, including problem sheets and a project-style report and group presentation, totalling not more than 6,000 words in length. The assignments are submitted online.

Academic credit

Those wishing to may apply to take the course with accreditation. The University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education offers Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) points for the course.

Students wishing to complete the Fundamental Characterisation for Nanotechnology course with academic credit will satisfactorily complete the coursework assessments. Attendance of a minimum of 70% of the live online tutorials is required. Students also need to actively participate in the online conversations via the course forums to the satisfaction of the course director. Students fulfilling these requirements are eligible to earn credit equivalent to 25 CATS points which may be counted towards a postgraduate qualification.


Application deadline: three weeks before the commencement of the course.

This course requires you to complete the online application form (please press the 'Apply' button) including a brief statement of purpose explaining your motivation for attending this course (500 words maximum), and submit a copy of your CV as an attachment as part of your application.

If you are applying to take this course for academic credit you will also need to complete section two of the reference form and forward it to your referee for completion, to return to Please note that if you are not applying to take the course for academic credit then you do not need to submit a reference.

Selection criteria

To apply for this short course you should:

  • have a degree in a mathematical or physical sciences discipline, e.g. mathematics, materials science, physics, chemistry, or engineering; or
  • have a degree in biology, pharmacy, medicine or business and be able to demonstrate at least A-level (or equivalent) knowledge in mathematics and physics; or
  • have some practical experience in a related field; and
  • be able to demonstrate an interest in nanotechnology; and
  • be able to demonstrate a suitable level of English (if this is not your first language).



Accommodation is available at the Rewley House Residential Centre, within the Department for Continuing Education, in central Oxford. The comfortable, en-suite, study-bedrooms have been rated as 4-Star Campus accommodation under the Quality In Tourism scheme, and come with tea- and coffee-making facilities, free Wi-Fi access and Freeview TV. Guests can take advantage of the excellent dining facilities and common room bar, where they may relax and network with others on the programme.

IT requirements

This course uses the Department’s online assignment submission system and online courseware. In order to participate in the course, and to prepare and submit your course assignments you will need access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification. Students of this course may use the student computing facilities provided in Departmental buildings.