The RGA User Group was originally formed to coordinate informal meetings for users and manufacturers of residual gas analysers (RGAs) to help them better understand each others needs and hence derive potential benefits. The first meeting of the group took place in 1996 in Rugby and comprised just 11 attendees. Since then the group has organized meetings approximately every 18 months. Attendance has grown steadily, culminating in the last meeting, held in March 2008 at the Culham Laboratory in Oxfordshire, which attracted more than 70 participants from industry, manufacturing and academia.

The RGA is an analytical instrument that is widely used throughout the vacuum industry. Its origins are as a diagnostic tool for measuring the partial pressures of the gases present in a vacuum chamber after it has been pumped down. However, advances in electronics and software have meant that the RGA is now revealing its true worth as a mass spectrometer, covering a variety of applications that are far removed from just measuring the quality of the vacuum.

The range of process-vacuum areas where RGAs are employed has widened to span everything from semiconductor processing to the extreme high vacuum (XHV) requirements of the latest generation of particle accelerators. The biggest benefit for users is that this range of applications has resulted in a significant market for RGAs that is filled by many different manufacturers, with the outcome that there is lots of product choice and such instruments can now be purchased at relatively low cost.

To the uninitiated, one RGA may look very much like another, but not all are the same, and this is where the group can help to enlighten users about the optimum set-ups for different vacuum processes and applications. Having an informed understanding of such intricacies is seen as a growing necessity for a large number of users, and the RGA User Group strives to address this need by providing opportunities for users, both new and old, to share their practical experiences of the instrumentation.

The user group has grown from humble beginnings to provide an established forum for the exchange of information and practical advice. It organizes workshop-style meetings with the aim of bringing industrial, academic and research-based RGA users together with equipment suppliers and manufacturers. These events are normally held at the laboratories of large UK government-research facilities. The events are free to all attendees, thanks to support from the companies attending the small exhibitions run in conjunction with the one-day meetings. The group also receives financial support from the Institute’s Vacuum Group and ASTeC, the UK’s centre of expertise for accelerator science and technology.

A typical meeting consists of eight or nine short presentations by experts from academia and industry that might cover everything from the practical aspects of using and servicing instrumentation to the latest advances in equipment miniaturization. The schedule offers attendees lots of time for networking with other users and with manufacturers, which helps to facilitate collaboration and the transfer of ideas. The meeting is usually rounded off with a tour of the facilities where the event is being held. An archive of presentations from meetings, together with other RGA User Group information, is available at rgausers.org.

The group is currently making plans for its next meeting, RGA-9, which will take place early next year. This will be another milestone in the evolution of the RGA User Group because it will form part of what it is hoped will be the first in a series of new vacuum events for the UK. Vacuum Symposium UK aims to address the needs of the vacuum community with an annual event incorporating both technical and commercial elements.

The 1st Vacuum Symposium UK (VS-1) will take place on 10–11 February 2010 at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire. The meeting will be free to participants and the event will run over two days, with the RGA-9 programme forming day one and a complementary VS-1 programme running on day two. The event will include free training seminars for new vacuum users, technical talks for more-experienced attendees and a vacuum-equipment exhibition. It is hoped that the event will attract interest from across the entire UK vacuum industry and beyond. So, if you are a user of vacuum equipment, have an interest in vacuum science and technology or are a supplier/manufacturer of vacuum equipment, then this meeting is for you. Full details and registration options are available at vacuum-uk.org.

Just as RGAs offer broad appeal, so the RGA User Group looks to do the same.