Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was founded in 1931 by Ernest Orlando Lawrence, a UC Berkeley physicist who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1939 for inventing the cyclotron, a circular particle accelerator that opened the door to high-energy physics.
Today, Berkeley Lab is a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through its Office of Science. The lab is managed by the University of California and conducts unclassified research across a wide range of scientific disciplines. It employs approximately 4,200 scientists, engineers, support staff, and students. According to its website, the lab’s overall economic impact on the national economy is estimated at $1.6 billion a year.
The Molecular Foundry
Created in 2004 as part of the DOE’s Nanoscale Science Research Center (NSRC) program to provide nanoscience resources to hundreds of academic, industrial, and government scientists around the world each year, The Molecular Foundry is a nanoscience research facility that provides access to cutting-edge expertise and instrumentation in a collaborative environment. Most of its outside users come from academia or other national labs – however, over 10% come from industry, including everything from small startups to Fortune 500 companies. Non-proprietary research can gain access to the Foundry free of charge – access is obtained through a brief, peer-reviewed proposal process centered around two proposal calls each year.
“Organized into seven interdependent research facilities, including the Nanofabrication Facility that houses our cleanroom, the Foundry provides access to state-of-the-art instrumentation, unique scientific expertise, and specialized techniques to help outside researchers address myriad challenges in nanoscience and nanotechnology through synergistic activities in fabrication, synthesis, characterization, and theory,” says Jeff Neaton, Molecular Foundry Director.
The Molecular Foundry encompasses seven facilities: Imaging and Manipulation of Nanostructures; Nanofabrication; Theory of Nanostructured Materials; Inorganic Nanostructures; Biological Nanostructures; Organic and Macromolecular Synthesis; and the National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM). The Nanofabrication Facility’s cleanroom measures about 4,850 square feet and is mainly Class 1,000, but includes Class 100 and Class 10 areas for nanofabrication/lithography, clean measurements, and electron beam lithography. While the class level is not officially certified, it has been measured periodically for many of the most sensitive parameters such as particle count, temperature, humidity, EM noise, vibration, and acoustic noise.
“Our facility strives to gain insight into fundamental nanofabrication processes, as well as processes that generate structures that can control the flow of light, electrons or energy. Additionally, we study how these and other nanoscale structures interact with light on ultrafast time scales,” says Stefano Cabrini, Nanofabrication Facility Director, Molecular Foundry. “To help us achieve these goals, our cleanroom houses tools for electron beam lithography, nanoimprinting, focused ion beam lithography, plasma etching, atomic layer deposition, thin film metal and semiconductor deposition, pulsed laser systems for non-linear fabrication processes and ultrafast characterization, and more.”
According to Neaton, The Molecular Foundry is made up of 45 research and technical staff, six of which work in the Nanofabrication Facility. “In total, our staff support over 300 peer-reviewed projects each year that come from researchers from over 30 states and 24 countries. In these projects selected by an external review panel, visiting scientists or ‘users’ stay for up to one year before returning to their home institutions that span academia, industry, and other government laboratories. Work at the Foundry is free of charge for non-proprietary research,” he says.
Establish your company as a technology leader. For 50 years, the R&D 100 Awards, widely recognized as the “Oscars of Invention,” have showcased products of technological significance. Learn more.
“The permanent nanofabrication facility staff includes one director, two staff scientists, and three technical staff. Their efforts are augmented by temporary postdocs and students. We recruit outside users from a variety of different sources: from other national labs, academia, and industry,” adds Cabrini. “Several of our students and postdocs have found attractive jobs in academia, national labs, and industry, notably in Bay Area semiconductor industries. Furthermore, some users have successfully launched start-ups and all return to their home institutions with an expanded understanding of nanofabrication.”
Keeping it clean
“The organization and maintenance of the cleanroom is managed day-to-day by our technical staff in collaboration with our users. In-house staff clean on a regular basis, and once a year we mount a deep-cleaning operation, during which all available cleanroom users are asked to help clean tools, organize supplies, wash walls and floors, and more,” says Cabrini. “Additionally, once a year an external company professionally cleans up the entire structure, checking the quality of the cleanness before and after the treatment.”
“We do utilize a separate room, located at the entrance to the cleanroom, for gowning. All cleanroom-permitted items are wiped with a 10% isopropyl alcohol solution in this room before they can be brought into the cleanroom,” adds Cabrini. “The quality of the air is constantly and automatically monitored for humidity and temperature in several spots, and particle counting operations are mounted as necessary.”
While many clean environments abide by specific standards and procedures, Berkeley Lab is constantly adapting to accommodate different projects.
“The nature of the work done in this lab does not allow us to strictly adhere to any standards or regulations with regards to cleanliness; flexibility is the main driver for a high-use research lab. Nevertheless, we work our best to maintain a Class 100/1,000 type of environment,” says Cabrini. “Since this class has not been certified, we cannot satisfy the industrial production standard. However, our cutting edge basic research has been useful for academic studies and pre-production industrial work. Furthermore, whenever companies need to maintain a high standard for their processes, we work with them to take all the engineering precautions to minimize contamination and to maintain a high level of efficiency and flexibility. All this helps us satisfy a large number of users with diverse projects. For safety we follow the guidelines of our EH&S department, which are based on University of California/OSHA regulations and guided by the Department of Energy.”
Research and significant discoveries
“Ever since our building opened its doors in 2006, staff and users have contributed significantly to all areas of nanoscience through their research at The Molecular Foundry,” says Neaton. “Prior to that, the National Center for Electron Microscopy, which merged with the Foundry last year, has had a long track record of leadership in the field of electron microscopy, highlighted by the development of the TEAM microscopes in 2009 that can image materials at 0.5 Å.”
Cabrini adds, “Specifically focusing on our nanofabrication efforts in our cleanroom, researchers have developed Photonic Crystal metamaterials, as well as plasmonic metamaterials1. These devices demonstrate the possibility of manipulating light with unprecedented spatial control, and paved the way for further developments. We have also developed a new kind of Near Field Microscopy Probes called ‘Campanile tips’2. These allow for the generation of truly novel processes in microscopy and spectroscopy below the diffraction limit. Furthermore, we have demonstrated the capability for nanoimprinting resolution and etching at sizes smaller than State-of-the-Art3, and we pioneered the use of DNA origami to do plasmonic antenna fabrication4.”
Since the lab is funded by taxpayer money, its staff believes it imperitive that the American public is aware of the important work that the lab is doing.
“It is critical that all taxpayers know how their money is being spent,” Neaton says. “In the case of basic scientific research, investments in research laboratories like Berkeley Lab and The Molecular Foundry create the foundation upon which new technologies and industries are built. In addition, they help train the next generation of scientists that will enable the country to innovate far into the future.
“For the scientific community, The Molecular Foundry provides a novel and effective way to support research efforts that are not possible at many institutions because of the scope and/or cost of the project. We encourage scientists from around the country, and around the world, to consider joining our community through our user program. Nanoscience and nanotechnology encompasses all areas of science, and has great potential to impact all areas of our lives. Since materials behave differently at the nanoscale, we expect nanoscience can open new frontiers in energy, materials, information technology, biology, and human health. Research conducted with users at The Molecular Foundry helps to define these newly emerging properties and develops strategies to take advantage of them.”
“We are helping industries prepare their new technologies for the future. We help start-ups come out with revolutionary, new ideas,” adds Cabrini. “We investigate properties of matter and devices that can exploit the emerging properties that open new opportunities for energy, safety, IT, and health applications.”
Looking toward the future
“The field of nanotechnology is still in its infancy. The first decade or two was driven by the optimization of fabrication techniques in cleanrooms that were originally developed for the creation of microprocessors,” says Neaton. “As these top-down fabrication techniques improved, they began to interface with the other major thrust of nanoscience: the synthesis of nano-sized building blocks – nanowires, nanotubes, quantum dots, DNA, etc. Given the diversity of what can be made through this bottom-up approach, one of the big future challenges is to understand and control the functionality that emerges from combining different building blocks and finding ways to integrate these new materials into functional systems, often times using top-down techniques common to cleanrooms.”
“In the last decade we have made considerable progress, but, to quote the famous 1959 lecture from Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, we have just found that there is ‘plenty of room at the bottom,’” adds Cabrini. “As of now, not all the potentialities of nanotechnology have been applied to the public good, but, in the near future, they will be, and the effects will become more and more apparent. Particularly, I expect to see substantial impacts on solar energy conversion, personalized point of care diagnostics, environmental control, and nanosensors. I would not be surprised to see groundbreaking, novel applications in these areas coming out in the not-so-distant future.”
“It is wonderful to have this opportunity to present our institution to a wider audience. It is important to communicate our activities and our new approaches to research in order to make the public aware of this valuable investment, as well as to start new collaborations and create new interdisciplinary ideas,” says Cabrini. “This place has been an incredible institution; it is a facility that is going to revolutionize the way research is done. The infrastructure, the high level of collaboration and interdisciplinarity, and the multicultural and international environment are winning components for this research institution. We hope it will serve as an example for other research facilities.”
1. V. Mocella, et al. Self-Collimation of Light over Millimeter-Scale Distance in a Quasi-Zero-Average-Index Metamaterial. Physical Review Letters, 102, 133902, 2009.
2. W. Bao, et al. Mapping Local Charge Recombination Heterogeneity by Multidimensional Nanospectroscopic Imaging. Science, Vol. 338, No. 6112, 2012.
3. C. Peroz, et al. Single digit nanofabrication by stepand-repeat nanoimprint lithography. Nanotechnology, 23, 015305, 2012.
4. Ding B., et al. Gold Nanoparticle Self-Similar Chain Structure Organized byDNA Origami. JACS, Vol: 132 Issue: 10 3248, 2010.
Jeff Neaton is Molecular Foundry Director and Stefano Cabrini is Nanofabrication Facility Director, Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. www.lbl.gov
MaryBeth DiDonna is Managing Editor of Controlled Environments.
This article appeared in the March 2015 issue of Controlled Environments.