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The yellowish-gold glow in this part of the Nanofabrication Facility's clean room protects light-sensitive processes.
You have to think small to do the kind of work now underway in the University of Delaware's new Nanofabrication Facility (UDNF).
But you have to think big, too, because what happens in the UDNF
"clean room" more on that later won't stay in the clean room. It
will ship out to the wide world of biology, chemistry, engineering,
electronics, health care, manufacturing, energy, physics, and
On March 8, UD officials, faculty, staff and students marked the opening
of the $30 million "machine shop of the 21st century" with a keynote
address by nanotechnology pioneer Harold Craighead of Cornell University
and a ceremonial ribbon-cutting in a packed hallway on the first floor
of the Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory.
The facility is equipped to produce devices that cannot be seen by
the naked eye materials that can be used in a wide array of
applications from medicine to environmental sciences to solar energy
harvesting. The equipment in the laboratory will allow researchers to
make devices as small as 10 nanometers. For reference, there are 10
million nanometers in one centimeter.
"This is a state-of-the-art facility that will allow faculty, staff,
students, and collaborators from across campus and beyond to envision
research at its smallest scale," said Charlie Riordan, deputy provost
for research and scholarship. "There are tremendous opportunities to
develop technologies at the atomic level. And we are very well poised
for all disciplines to leverage this technology to address the grand
challenges we face in society."
The facility was years in the planning and now is in the hands of
co-directors Matthew Doty, associate professor of materials science and
engineering, physics, and electrical and computer engineering, and John
Xiao, Unidel Professor of Physics and Astronomy. Xiao specializes in
spintronics, nanofabrication and magnetic materials. Doty studies and
develops nanostructured semiconductors.
Though the symbolic ribbon was cut Tuesday, you can't just walk into
this workshop. Entry to the 8,500-square-foot clean room, where all the
work is done, requires training, credentials, painstaking protocols and
coverage from the "gowning room" including hair nets, face and head
covers, jumpsuits, gloves, booties, safety glasses and hard hats.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Acting President Nancy Targett (center) asks Charlie Riordan, deputy provost of research and scholarship, to cut the symbolic ribbon at the facility's opening. With them are (from left) mascot YoUDee, UDNF co-directors John Xiao and Matthew Doty, College of Engineering Dean Babatunde Ogunnaike, Provost Domenico Grasso and College of Arts and Sciences Dean George Watson.
The "clean" referenced here isn't the white-glove kind of clean. It's
far to the extreme of that. The clean room is rated for two layers of
clean one is Class 100, which means that it has no more than 100
particles measuring 500 nanometers or more in a cubic foot of air, and
the other is Class 1,000, which means it has no more than 1,000 such
particles per cubic foot.
For reference, an ordinary room would register about 100,000 particles per cubic foot.
To keep the air this clean, the air in the room is constantly pushed through filters, changing the air up to 300 times an hour.
Such hyper-clean conditions are mandatory because work at nanometer
length scales can be sabotaged by unwanted particles. Without such
measures, Xiao said, it would be like trying to frost a wedding cake
while someone is throwing basketballs at you.
The clean room has four separate bays for processes including
lithography, deposition of thin films, etching, and thermal processing.
Several doctoral candidates including Xiangyu Ma, Jimmy Hack, and
Sarah Geiger were at their nanofab stations Tuesday, properly suited
up with their clean-room gear.
"We're getting the tools up and running and they're helping us
qualify the tools," said Scott McCracken, facility specialist. "They're
starting to do some work as well, starting some of their own projects."
Ma, whose adviser is Doty, said his research includes development of
new semiconductors for future generations of computers. Hack has been
using a device called a magnetron sputterer to ionize particles, which
helps to deposit material onto silicon. And Geiger is working with
organic photoresist, which will be used in microfluidics and
"We're all really excited," Ma said.
The nanofabrication technology makes the University more appealing to
students and faculty with such interests, and George Watson, physicist
and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he is taking the
opportunity to recruit new faculty.
"This is opening up new opportunities," he said.
Ira Winston, chief infrastructure officer at the University of
Pennsylvania's School of Engineering and Applied Science, saluted UD's
accomplishment and that of his former colleague, Iulian Codreanu, who is
now operations director of UDNF.
"We thought we built the premiere facility," Winston said. "But they
[UD] made some choices we didn't make. They have some things we don't.
So I know some of our users will be coming here. Collaboration is going
to happen. We have some things they don't and they have some things we
Work is already underway in one of the four bays that are part of the UD Nanofabrication Facility's clean room.
Industry leaders have shown significant interest in the University's
new capacity, too. It's expensive equipment the electron beam
lithography setup alone cost about $3 million.
Jim Sharp, president of Carl Zeiss Microscopy, was on hand for the
ribbon cutting. The facility has several Zeiss instruments in it.
"The future of science is in the fab," Sharp said. "The science will go there."
In his address at Mitchell Hall on Tuesday afternoon, Craighead
pulled the curtain back a bit to explain how nanofabrication already has
transformed research and development.
The former director of the National Nanofabrication Facility at
Cornell and founding director of Cornell's Nanobiotechnology Center
studies such things as single molecule biophysics, chemical sensors, and
the physics of nanoelectromechanical systems.
He showed how a plant pathologist used the technology to better
understand the development of bean-rust fungus by engineering surfaces
for experiments. He sketched out the study of engineered surfaces for
neuroscience, and described his analysis of individual molecules,
including DNA sequencing.
In health care, physicians may one day gain access to a
"lab-on-a-chip" a testing device that allows sample materials and data
to be analyzed in an office or in the field, not requiring a trip to a
"This technology can bring people together from different disciplines
together in ways they never would have done before," he said.
No one can see such minutia with their eyes or even a conventional
microscope. One nanometer is about 100,000 times smaller than the
diameter of a human hair. But with photolithography, scanning electron
microscopy and other instruments, scientists can manipulate these
miniscule materials to produce significant devices and analytical
processes for many different purposes.
"I'm only scratching the surface regarding what is possible today,"
Craighead said. "There will be applications we can't envision now. I am
unable to predict the future.... I can certainly predict it's going to
have impact, but I can't predict where."
It is because of nanoscale technology that sophisticated computing
can be done on devices the size of a wristwatch or cell phone rather
than the massive machines that once required entire rooms to do the work
of a glorified calculator.
And now, UD's tiny tech machine shop is poised to deliver extraordinary new possibilities.
"Things are already up and running," Doty said. "We're ready for business."