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Summary The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST’s) Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) was founded on May 1, 2007, and remains in development with respect to projects and staffing. It aspires to be recognized both as a world leader in each of its research areas and as an organization providing ready access to unexcelled nanoscale measurement and fabrication facilities. Its mission is to (1) provide measurement methods, standards, and technology to support all phases of nanotechnology development from discovery to production; (2) develop and maintain a national shared-use facility, the Nanofab, with state-of-the-art nanoscale fabrication and measurement capabilities; (3) apply a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving that involves partnering with industry, academia, and other government agencies; (4) serve as a hub to link the external nanotechnology community to the vast measurement expertise that exists within NIST, including expertise in related metrology residing in other NIST laboratories; and (5) help to educate the next generation of nanotechnologists. The CNST has two components with complementary purposes―the research program and the Nanofab facility. The current research program consists of leading-edge nanoscale research directed toward exploring phenomena that may provide the basis for future nanoscale metrology techniques. This part of the CNST is staffed by scientific research staff with records of individual research accomplishment―although much of the output was completed before the staff joined the CNST―supported by a large number of postdoctoral appointees and various support staff. The Nanofab is a national shared-use facility that aspires to provide a state-of-the-art suite of nanoscale measurement and fabrication capabilities. It is largely a clean-room facility and is staffed accordingly. It is expected that the Nanofab will attract users from all sectors of the economy―industry, academia, and government―through its impressive capital equipment capabilities. Individuals, from elsewhere at NIST and beyond, can interact with the CNST in either or both of two ways: (1) through collaborations with the scientific research staff in the research program, and (2) through use of the Nanofab to fabricate structures or devices. As described to the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Panel on Nanoscale Science and Technology, the CNST, with a fiscal year (FY) 2008 budget of $21 million, is currently staffed by 70 full-time equivalents (FTEs), including 45 technical staff. Several staff hiring offers are pending. There are currently 9 staff members with the title of Project Leader, each of whom is allocated 2 postdoctoral researchers and one sixth each of an electrical engineer, mechanical designer/instrument specialist, computer specialist, and secretary. Two group leaders and 2 CNST Fellows also serve as project leaders; they, too, are supported by staff and laboratory resources. There are 10 administrative-support positions and 15 technical-support positions. The research program is organized in three groups―Electron Physics, Nanofabrication Research, and Energy Research. The first two groups are reasonably fully staffed, and searches are underway to staff the third group. The operation of the Nanofab is undertaken by the Nanofab Operations Group. Aggressive recruiting for all levels within the CNST is continuing, and the center is working to achieve its full complement of talent. The panel of experts appointed by the National Research Council assessed the overall CNST accomplishments and operations for FY 2009. As requested by the Deputy 1
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Director of NIST, the scope of the assessment included the following criteria: (1) the technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide; (2) the adequacy of the laboratory budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs; and (3) the degree to which the laboratory programs in measurement science and standards achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. TECHNICAL MERIT OF THE CENTER’S PROGRAMS On the basis of its assessment of the CNST, conducted in February 2009, the NRC’s Panel on Nanoscale Science and Technology concluded that for the selected portion of the programs presented for review by the CNST, the staff, the projects, and the facilities are outstanding and, in many cases, unique. The various parts of the CNST are not uniformly mature. Some parts are very mature, with efforts that have evolved naturally from long-standing NIST programs, while others are extremely new, in some cases with almost no staff yet. Much of the work reviewed is scientifically outstanding; all of the work reviewed is scientifically very good. The panel was impressed by the breadth of scientific knowledge and the overall level of enthusiasm of the staff encountered throughout the CNST. The projects presented are clearly focused on the metrology mission of NIST as they seek to develop understanding that will lead to standards and metrology at the nanoscale. Much of the research presented is directed toward developing unique instrumentation. These efforts are first-rate. The quality of the science done with the instrumentation is more variable. Although much of the work reviewed is original, innovative, and among the best of its kind, some is significantly more pedestrian. The panel is particularly concerned about plans for the new Energy Research Group. Given the uniqueness of much of the CNST instrumentation, it is incumbent upon CNST staff to seek out the best collaborators from around the world to perform high-impact, game-changing experiments as programs and projects are developed. In addition, the CNST may find it useful to benchmark itself against other nanoscience/nanotechnology efforts around the world. An advisory committee composed of nanoscience/nanotechnology experts might also be helpful. The staffing of the CNST is heavily biased toward experimental work. The relatively small theoretical effort is outstanding and has significant impact on a wide variety of programs. The CNST would benefit from having a larger theoretical component in its staffing mix. A greater presence of talent in the realm of theory could act as a catalyst to bring together efforts across the CNST and beyond. The technical merit of the reviewed work of the Electron Physics Group relative to the state of the art is at the level of the best in the field. The group’s laboratory facilities are state of the art and in many cases unique. The outstanding accomplishments of the group indicate achievement of stated objectives and impact. Many members of the CNST staff have been at NIST for a very short time. These new hires have shown impressive results in their previous positions but have not been at NIST long enough to have established new research directions or reputations. The panel looks forward to evaluating their progress in future reviews. Likewise, the Nanofab facility has not been operating for very long. The current Nanofab leadership arrived at 2
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the CNST only recently, and the operating mode for the facility is still developing. Some of the efforts of the Nanofabrication Research Group are producing outstanding results and have shown excellent success in achieving stated objectives. This rather new group has articulated an outstanding vision and direction. The combination of creative personnel with excellent facilities that enable them to push in new, unexpected directions makes for an exceptional infrastructure. The panel recommends that the Nanofab be reviewed again in about a year, when it has been operating long enough for its performance to be judged. The Energy Research Group is even more embryonic, with almost no staff in place. The description of the group’s dual role in improving measurements in the energy area and particularly in addressing nanometer-dimensional problems in energy is insufficiently focused. The plan to focus on nanometer aspects of energy research does not suggest disciplinary activities characteristic of a well-considered program driven by the investigation of physical principles through good measurements. The vision for this group requires further development if it is to occupy a unique, NIST-appropriate position in the very crowded field at the intersection of nanoscience and energy. This vision should be developed before the group is staffed. The next year will be critical in defining the role of the Energy Research Group. Review of the group within the next year will be important to ensure that it is on the right track. The productivity of CNST staff since 2007 has been impressive, although much of the output was completed before the staff joined the CNST. The number of publications with CNST affiliation totals 43 for 2007-2008. In the same time period, current CNST staff members have been authors of more than 150 publications representing work done before they joined the CNST. So far in 2009, a total of 20 publications by CNST staff are in press, half of which have the CNST affiliation. This high level of productivity is likely to continue, with a substantially higher proportion of the total number of publications having a CNST affiliation as the center matures. CNST staff and leadership have also garnered an impressive array of awards over the same time period. Many of the capabilities in the CNST are unique, having been developed by NIST personnel with both the talent and the resources to develop novel instrumentation and techniques. These unique capabilities will have their maximal impact when they are applied to forefront scientific and technical challenges that can only be addressed through such cutting-edge techniques. It is imperative that the CNST seek out and work with the best collaborators from around the world in order to have the game-changing impact of which it is capable. The generous budget of the CNST and the “block funding” nature of its allocation are increasingly unusual in the U.S. scientific community. This approach enables the CNST staff to concentrate on their scientific endeavors in a way that is all too rare. The staff recognize their enviable position and greatly appreciate the NIST and CNST leadership for their roles in making this funding model possible. The rather “comfortable” nature of this funding arrangement means that it is incumbent on CNST leadership to ensure that the CNST is pursuing the best possible science consistent with its mission. Also, the leadership must develop quality assessment tools and mechanisms to end any less productive projects and to change scientific directions where appropriate. 3
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ADEQUACY OF INFRASTRUCTURE The CNST facilities are clearly among the best in the world and in many cases are unique. Such facilities are appropriate for the elements of the CNST mission that involve developing the understanding and techniques for nanoscale standards and metrology. Likewise, the staff is outstanding. The inability to hire foreign nationals as NIST employees is, however, a significant impediment, because the United States certainly does not have a monopoly on the best and brightest talent in nanoscience and nanotechnology. The restrictions on access by and employment of foreign nationals are likely to be detrimental to the CNST’s efforts to remain at the forefront of nanoscience and nanotechnology for the long term. Although an innovative arrangement with the University of Maryland is in place to enable foreign nationals to work at the CNST, these individuals do not enjoy the same unfettered access to the facilities and information that is taken for granted by staff who are U.S. citizens. The leadership of all of the measurements and standards laboratories at NIST, including the CNST, has impressive incentives at its disposal for recruiting top talent; these include offering generous starting bonuses and paying off student loans. The recruiting challenges that the CNST is experiencing at the moment are far from unique to NIST. There is a striking lack of diversity of the staff, from management, to project leaders, to postdocs, to technical support. Few women or underrepresented minorities were part of any of the groups with which the panel met, although the panel understands that a few women have recently departed and that a female staff member will be starting soon. The CNST must continue to work hard to attract and retain a diverse workforce that more closely represents the available pool of talent. There is apparently more diversity in the makeup of the recently recruited staff; the panel expects to see noticeably different demographics during the next review. ACHIEVEMENT OF OBJECTIVES AND IMPACT The vision presented to the panel in the overview presentation on the CNST is clear, compelling, and consistent with the mission of NIST. During discussion, the panel heard clearly that others generally work on future nanotechnologies (e.g., devices), whereas NIST focuses mostly on the instruments to measure properties within the new technologies and on current needs of industry. The efforts of individual projects are generally aligned with the CNST vision. Given the youth of the CNST as an organization and the recent arrival of many of its staff, the center has made outstanding progress toward achieving its goals. It has not, as its leadership well recognizes, fully achieved its objectives, and it continues to grow very rapidly. The CNST should be reviewed annually for progress until the rate of change has slowed significantly from its current rate. 4
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RECOMMENDATIONS The panel offers the following recommendations: The CNST should continue aggressively to seek out and work with the best collaborators from around the world in order to have the game-changing impact that is its promise. The CNST should consider benchmarking itself against other nanoscience/nanotechnology efforts around the world. The center should also consider forming an advisory committee composed of nanoscience/nanotechnology experts. Such a committee would provide the CNST with more access to current industrial technology trends, for example in information technology. The inability to hire foreign nationals as NIST employees is a significant impediment that is likely to be detrimental to the CNST’s efforts to remain at the forefront of nanoscience and nanotechnology for the long term. CNST leadership needs to convince NIST leadership of the importance of this issue. The CNST should work harder to attract and retain a diverse workforce that more closely represents the available pool of talent. The CNST should consider increasing the relative proportion of theorists and chemists in its overall staffing. The CNST should be reviewed annually for progress until the rate of change has slowed significantly from its current rate. Annual reviews of the Nanofab and the Energy Research Group are especially critical. 5