Rice University researchers helped usher in the age of nanotechnology with the discovery of buckyballs at the Houston campus in 1985. Within 10 years, Rice would be home to one of the world’s first academic nanotechnology centers, and today more than half of the university’s tenured and tenure-track faculty in engineering and natural sciences have research interests related to nanotechnology.
Rice’s nanofabrication cleanroom houses Class 100 and Class 1,000 suites, and opened in 2004. It contains lithography tools, including an EVG 620 Semi-automated Double Side Mask Alignment System, an Oxford Instruments PlasmaPro 100 ICP180 system, a Cambridge Nanotech Savannah 200 atomic layer deposition system, thin film evaporators, a Jobin spectroscopic ellipsometer, and a suite of preparation and characterization tools.
The cleanroom is one part of Rice’s Shared Equipment Authority (SEA)1, which operates and maintains experimental instruments that are available to all Rice researchers. SEA’s mission is to oversee and grow Rice’s cross-disciplinary research capabilities though the acquisition of new research equipment and the proper training and education of users. SEA is governed by a 15-member faculty board and a team of dedicated staff and was recognized in 20052 by the National Research Council as a commendable example of shared-facility management.
Rice’s cleanroom enables interdisciplinary research at the interface of nanophotonics, 2D and 3D nanomaterials, electro-optical devices, metamaterials, and microfluidic systems. Specific examples of nanoscale research include the exploration of novel
properties of carbon-based nanomaterials like graphene and carbon nanotubes, the examination of gold-shell nanoparticles for plasmonic applications, and the investigation of biosensors for various cancer markers. An emerging area that is driven by the needs of Houston’s global energy industry is the development of nanomaterials and devices for conventional energy recovery.
To access the cleanroom, new users are required to complete a mandatory orientation program on cleanroom operation, safety, regulations, training, and protocols. Users also are required to attend instrumentspecific training and pass a hands-on test prior to accessing specific pieces of equipment.
In addition to the cleanroom, SEA administers Rice facilities for optical and electron microscopy, mass spectroscopy, and X-ray and nuclear magnetic resonance characterization. SEA’s newest addition, a double-Cs corrected, monochromated FEI Titan Themis transmission electron microscope (TEM), is the first of its kind in North America. It includes capabilities for atomic-resolution imaging and elemental analysis as well as electron energy loss spectroscopy and electron holography. The TEM is accompanied by a new, dualbeam focused ion beam system capable of nanometer-resolution patterning and SEM imaging.
SEA serves more than 500 faculty, postdoctoral, and student users involved in condensed matter physics, bioengineering, atomic and molecular physics, biomolecular engineering, optics, materials science, physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, environmental science, soft condensed matter physics, and other disciplines. SEA equipment also serves more than 100 off-campus users from industry and from partner institutions in Houston’s Texas Medical Center, a 42-member complex that boasts more than seven million patient visits per year.
Jade Boyd is Associate Director and Science Editor, News and Media Relations, Office of Public Affairs at Rice University in Houston, Texas. www.rice.edu
This article appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Controlled Environments.