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Summary The mission of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is “to operate a national, shared resource for nanoscale fabrication and measurement and develop innovative nanoscale measurement and fabrication capabilities to support researchers from industry, academia, NIST, and other government agencies in advancing nanoscale technology from discovery to production.”1 The CNST has two components with complementary purposes―the research program, composed of three groups (Electron Physics, Nanofabrication Research, and Energy Research), and the NanoFab facility. Individuals from beyond NIST and elsewhere at NIST can interact with the CNST through collaborations with the scientific research staff in the research program and through use of the NanoFab to fabricate structures or devices. As requested by the Director of NIST, the Panel on Nanoscale Science and Technology, a panel of experts appointed by the National Research Council (NRC), performed an assessment that employed the following criteria: (1) the degree to which Laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and fulfill the mission of the CNST; (2) the technical merits and scientific caliber of the current laboratory programs relative to comparable programs worldwide; and (3) the alignment between laboratory research and development (R&D) efforts and those services and other mission-critical deliverables for which that laboratory is responsible. The CNST has matured significantly over the past 2 years since the previous NRC 2 review, having achieved nearly steady state in terms of staffing and projects. The center’s research program consists of leading-edge nanoscale research directed toward exploring phenomena that may provide the basis for future nanoscale measurement and characterization techniques. This component of the CNST is staffed by scientific research staff with strong records of individual research accomplishment. There is an increasingly impressive record of publication by scientists at the CNST.3 This output is supported by a significant cadre of postdoctoral appointees and support staff. The CNST should consider enhancing the professional development of postdoctoral staff by offering opportunities (possibly through partner institutions such as universities) for staff to learn skills needed for non-academic careers—for example, in entrepreneurship. The NanoFab component of the CNST is a national shared-use facility that aspires to provide a state-of-the-art suite of nanoscale measurement and fabrication capabilities. Largely a clean-room facility, the NanoFab is attracting users from all sectors of the economy―industry, academia, and government―through its impressive capital-equipment capabilities; it appears to be operating at near capacity. The NanoFab is providing outstanding service with unparalleled capabilities to a broad range of users. The CNST is a world leader in some of its areas of emphasis. There are many unique capabilities throughout the center, and CNST staff have extensive collaborations with scientists, 1 National Institute of Standards and Technology, Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology 2010, NIST SP 1121, March 2011, p. 4. See http://www.nist.gov/cnst/upload/cnst_2010_report.pdf. Accessed June 29, 2011. 2 National Research Council, An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology: Fiscal Year 2009. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2009. 3 National Institute of Standards and Technology, Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology 2010, NIST SP 1121, March 2011, pp. 78-81. See http://www.nist.gov/cnst/upload/cnst_2010_report.pdf. Accessed June 29, 2011. 1
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engineers, and companies from the United States and around the world. The staffing is largely complete, although many laboratories, especially in the newer groups such as the Energy Research Group, are still under development. These newer efforts appear to have assembled highly talented teams that have the potential to develop a high-quality effort. These areas are likely to continue to grow and develop over the next few years. The CNST supports researchers from industry, academia, NIST, and other government agencies. The number of users as reported to the panel is impressively high, and the increasing use by industry users appears consistent with the NIST/CNST mission. Even greater use should be possible with enhanced communication about the CNST capabilities relative to those available elsewhere. The staff, the projects, and the facilities of many of the programs presented for review by the CNST are outstanding and in several instances unique. All of the work reviewed by the panel is scientifically very good. Much of it is original, innovative, scientifically outstanding, and among the best of its kind. Almost all of the projects are clearly focused on the stated mission of NIST as they seek to develop understanding that will lead to standards and precision measurement at the nanoscale. A fair amount of the research is directed toward developing unique instrumentation. The substantial budget of the CNST and the self-sufficient “block funding” nature of its allocation without the concomitant expectation of supporting user-defined research in the scientific portion of the CNST organization 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. Staff are able to spend a significant number of years working on extremely high risk, high payoff instrument development, which may lead to demonstration and exploitation of unique capabilities. There are very few, if any, other institutions in the United States where such endeavors are possible, making this capability at the CNST all the more valuable. In such an environment, it is manifest that the leadership of the organization has a particularly significant responsibility to evaluate projects rigorously and to curtail long-standing projects that are not paying off. With the addition of important theoretical and chemical expertise, the balance of CNST staffing has improved significantly since the panel’s last review in 2009. The theorist in each research group has tended to become “glue” uniting the various efforts within the group. The reviewed work of the Electron Physics Group, conducted with the use of state-of-the- art equipment, 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 Nanofabrication Research Group is a highly competent assemblage of scientists that has taken on the additional mission of advancing the state of the art in nanomanufacturing, an area of growing importance. The laboratory facilities available to the group could well be the best in the world. The research programs in this group are of high quality and are aligned with the group’s mission. Some of the laboratories in this group are still under development. The Energy Research Group is now fully staffed, with a good combination of junior and more senior staff, although many of the laboratories are still under development. The work of this group is the most technologically (rather than scientifically) focused effort of the research groups. The laboratories and equipment that are in place are state of the art in all respects. It is still too early to judge in detail the quality and mission alignment of the Energy Research Group’s research programs. The NanoFab facility has progressed significantly and is reaching capacity. The equipment and capabilities are probably as modern and complete as those of any similar facility in the United States. 2
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It is important to recognize the tension inherent in supporting both high-quality science and measurement activities and user facilities. For the scientific groups there are scientific collaborations and interactions with industry and others; they are full scientific collaborations, not a matter of CNST scientists supporting a user-defined body of work. For the NanoFab, the focus is on user support; the users may be from the scientific part of the CNST, from elsewhere at NIST, or from outside NIST. This tension adds richness to the CNST environment, but it needs to be monitored and balanced continually. The balance seems appropriate currently, and the diversity of effort is well aligned with the CNST vision and is key to the center’s ability to meet its mission, both now and in the future. There are a number of good examples of close interactions and collaborations between the CNST research groups and industry. In some cases, the instrumentation or understanding provided through the interaction helped a company develop or improve a product. In other cases, CNST staff led the development of instrumentation (through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA) that significantly enhanced equipment sold by a company. The NanoFab facility and its highly skilled staff represent a major advance in the research capabilities of the CNST. A dynamic group of researchers including students, postdoctoral researchers, and NIST staff are engaged in research utilizing this modern capability. RECOMMENDATIONS The CNST should: Further diversify the user base for the NanoFab. The capabilities are so outstanding that they would be in greater demand if more potential users knew about them. Given NIST’s mission to increase U.S. competitiveness, continue to increase the CNST focus on industry as its key customer. Specific focus should be on the industrial segment that requires state-of-the-art nanofabrication capability and access to outstanding scientific staff. Actively manage the balance between high-quality science and service. The first can lead to the second, but only if time is allowed for the sufficient maturation of the research. The current balance is appropriate but needs to be monitored very closely if it is to be preserved. Continue the effort to mature the focus and stature of the newer research groups, especially the Energy Research Group. This effort would include more strategic planning and the identification of research issues of central importance to the energy landscape in the United States. Consider enhancing the professional development of postdoctoral staff by offering opportunities (possibly through partner institutions such as universities) for staff to learn skills needed for non-academic careers—for example, in entrepreneurship. For the next review the CNST should: Discuss the strategic plan of the CNST and how it flows down to each group. —Explain how the plan is used to determine research directions, resource allocation, staff selections, and balance between research and user support. —Describe how projects are proposed, vetted and/or selected, evaluated, and retired. 3
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Discuss the intellectual property strategy of the CNST and how it aligns with CNST priorities. In the metrics, differentiate between users and collaborators. Describe the interactions with industry in more detail. —What are the priorities for industry interactions? —How are these interactions cultivated? —What are the criteria for accepting industry projects? Provide a description of the method of counting users, a complete list of projects with associated users, and a breakdown of industry versus non-NIST (non-industry) versus NIST process hours. Hone presentation skills. —Talks should adhere to the allotted time and allow adequate time for discussion. —Both talks and posters should provide context for the work, including a demonstration of knowledge of relevant work by others around the world and the connection of the work to the NIST and CNST mission. —Although many posters in the present review were very good, some of them would have benefited from being less cluttered. Posters should be uncluttered and clear, so as to be understandable to broad audiences. 4