Facilities and Instrumentation

Nanoscale science and technology R&D often requires the use of complex and expensive facilities and instrumentation. In fact, it was the development of tools such as the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) at IBM/Zurich in the 1980s that many experts point to as among the key events that enabled the dawn of this new era of nanoscale science and technology. Tools like the STM are what make it possible to "image, measure, model, and manipulate matter on the nanoscale."^ Effective use of such tools also can require specialized facilities to house them, including dedicated buildings designed to eliminate the vibration, particulate contamination, noise, and temperature variations typical of conventional research facilities. Without this vital infrastructure it would be impossible to realize the true promise of nanotechnology.

The NNI provides access to such facilities and instrumentation through a variety of means. Some large NNI-funded research centers can include funding for such infrastructure in their budgets. However, breakthroughs in science and technology often come from unexpected quarters. In particular, some of the most creative work often is conducted by individual investigators or small teams, which may or may not be affiliated with large universities housing NNI-funded research centers. Even more importantly, for the fruits of basic research to be developed into useful products, researchers in industry also require access to the essential tools of nanotechnology R&D. Only a few very large corporations can afford to purchase such infrastructure for their own exclusive use, whereas small start-up high-technology companies are often the source of some of the most important commercial innovations, and they are well known to be the engine of new job creation in the U.S. economy.

Therefore, a critical role for the government is to provide access to nanotechnology facilities and instrumentation for a wide spectrum of researchers, both in academia and in industry. Accordingly, a large component of the NNI funding is dedicated to the development and operation of user facilities, open to any qualified researchers on a merit-review basis. Two of the most significant NNI user facility programs are (1) the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs) now under construction, each with a specific focus and associated with existing large-scale research facilities and competencies at DOE laboratories across the country; and (2) the NSF's National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, with existing and new facilities available at thirteen universities.!!! NSF also supports a seven-university network of specialized user facilities for research on modeling and simulation of nanostructures and related systems.!?!

Another related government role is support for development of new types of instrumentation for nanoscale science and technology. Just as the development of the AFM and other probe microscopes opened up whole new worlds for research and application in recent years, future progress likely will be enabled by new instrumentation breakthroughs. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) plays a key role in conducting research on novel instrumentation. NSF also funds university research on new instrumentation concepts.

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