The state of Oregon's strength in nanoscience has drawn yet another major grant, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Peter DeFazio announced Friday, Aug. 20, at the University of Oregon.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the UO $402,000 for a new electron beam lithography system and a nanoimprint lithography system, to be used by university and industry researchers statewide and housed in CAMCOR, the university's Center for Advanced Materials Characterization.
The new tools will upgrade and expand the capabilities of existing facilities, which serve as the cornerstone for nanofabrication research at the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute-University of Oregon (ONAMI-UO).
"This grant marks a new chapter in the success story of ONAMI helping the state lead the way in this promising industry and making nanotechnology a significant contributor to Oregon's economy," said Wyden, author of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. The Oregon Democrat was named a Champion of Science by the Science Coalition in 2003.
The NSF award, the latest in a string made to Oregon researchers specializing in nanoscience, adds luster to July's announcement that Oregon's Congressional delegation secured $5 million for ONAMI research at the University of Oregon, Oregon State University (OSU) and Portland State University (PSU).
The UO is contributing $172,000 of the $574,000 price tag for the new equipment. UO researchers led the grant proposal, which also includes scientists at PSU and OSU as part of a greater ONAMI effort to better equip research facilities in Oregon.
DeFazio noted the link between research funding and a more robust state economy.
"Investments in Oregon's higher education and research enterprise pay big dividends for the state's economy and lead to opportunities to develop high wage, skilled jobs for Oregonians," DeFazio said. DeFazio, dean of the Oregon House delegation, worked to fund the ONAMI initiative.
Nanoimprint lithography (NIL) is a new technology using a master stamp or mold that is fabricated using standard e-beam lithography and dry etching. Within minutes, it can reproduce features as small as 10 nanometers on a two-inch wafer area, reducing costs and enhancing results.
E-beam lithography systems are essential instruments for nanotechnology research in chemistry, physics and engineering projects. This tool works something like a pencil but, instead of leaving its mark with graphite, it draws with a narrow beam of electrons capable of producing patterns based on lines that are just 20 to 30 nanometers wide. Its many uses include making nanostructures; connecting them to each other and to human-scale devices; and identifying how materials interact with fluids, light and electrical current in a nanoscale environment.
The NSF also funded the UO's existing e-beam lithography system, which on Friday provided Wyden and DeFazio with a glimpse of the new system's potential during their Aug. 20 campus visit.
Mark Lonergan, co-principal investigator on the new NSF grant, has made full use of the UO's existing e-beam lithography system for pace-setting research that's won major funding from the Dreyfus and Beckman foundations in addition to NSF. However, the UO associate professor of chemistry says working with the UO's aging e-beam is like trying to write a postcard with a dull pencil while riding on a bus that's bouncing along a bumpy road. In contrast, the new equipment will be more like doing delicate calligraphy with an ever-sharp pencil while seated at a totally stable drafting table.
"This new system will allow us to write much more spectacular patterns with sharper features over larger areas and with better reproducibility," Lonergan says.
The UO's 10-year-old e-beam won't be put out to pasture when the new system arrives in six to 12 months. Lonergan says it will expand ONAMI-UO's capacity by serving chiefly as an electron microscope, allowing university and industry researchers to study the behavior of ever more complex patterns and structures created at the nanoscale.
"The National Science Foundation's investment will provide crucial equipment for use by researchers from the UO, PSU and OSU, along with private industry," said John Moseley, UO senior vice president and provost. "This addition to our research infrastructure increases the entire state's capacity to compete for research grants and generate innovations that contribute to the knowledge economy."
Statewide, scientists have pulled in about $60 million in grants for nanoscience research during the past five years, said Skip Rung, executive director of ONAMI.
Unlike many research universities, the UO has long had a shared instrumentation policy that allows any researcher to use sophisticated research equipment as time permits. This opportunity is extended to private industry, as well as other universities in the region, through CAMCOR.
"World-class shared facilities such as CAMCOR are a powerful strategy for our state, since they expand the range of capabilities available to all researchers, enhancing their competitive reach, while at the same time making maximum use of leading edge tools," Rung said.
Wyden and DeFazio, both UO graduates, were joined for the announcement by Moseley along with Ron Adams, ONAMI-OSU, and Don McClave, ONAMI-PSU.
ONAMI unites the UO (Eugene), OSU (Corvallis) and PSU with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, Wash.), the state of Oregon and the Northwest's high technology industries. It focuses on research and development of nanoscience and microtechnologies needed to foster the creation of new products, companies and jobs in the Pacific Northwest.
Background: Nanoscience research at the UO has grown largely out of an NSF program which identifies young professors who show potential to become the most promising academic leaders of their generation. The foundation's prestigious CAREER Awards, which typically range from $300,000 to $500,000 each, helped equip labs operated UO faculty members Lonergan, James Hutchison, Miriam Deutsch and Heiner Linke.
Source: University of Oregon
Explore further: How nanotechnology could keep your heart healthy