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4 The NanoFab Program SCOPE AND MISSION The functional statement of the NanoFab was described to the panel as being threefold: 1. Provide access to state-of-the-art, commercial nanoscale measurement and fabrication tools and methods, along with associated technical expertise, in a shared-access, shared-cost environment, to industry, academia, NIST, and other government agencies; 2. Enable the processing and characterization of a wide range of nanoscale materials, structures, and devices critical to the nation’s measurement and technology needs; and 3. Foster internal collaborations in nanotechnology across NIST’s laboratories and foster external collaborations with NIST’s partners through its shared environment.13 This NanoFab mission statement is consistent with the CNST mission statement goals of operating a national, shared-use facility for nanoscale fabrication and for developing innovative nanoscale fabrication capabilities supporting researchers from industry, academia, NIST, and other government agencies. Based on the reported increases in both research participation and hours of clean-room usage, it appears that the processing activities in the NanoFab have increased twofold over the previous 2 years, with participation from both internal NIST users and external industry users. However, because no breakdown of the industry versus NIST process hours was detailed, the panel was not able to evaluate the degree of industry impact in the NanoFab shared-use facility. STAFFING The facility’s processing activities are supported by a NanoFab manager and 12 experienced staff members, an increase of 2 staff members over 2009 levels. Process staffing consists of 6 process engineers, 3 microscopists, and 3 equipment engineers. There are 3 staff members with PhD degrees and 4 staff members with MS degrees. In addition, 3 administration personnel support NanoFab user interactions and usage coordination. The large number of staff and high level of staff education enhance the productivity of the NanoFab and distinguish it from comparable nanofabrication facilities in universities with less-experienced and fewer staff members. The NanoFab staffing model for meeting the process needs for its fabrication projects takes two forms: (1) hands-on processing by the users with initial process training by the staff, or (2) processing by the staff only. In both cases, the NanoFab staff provides consultation services to define both process development requirements and a process integration flow for the process project. 13 Vincent Luciani, CNST NanoFab, “The NanoFab,” presentation to the panel, Gaithersburg, Maryland, March 7, 2011. 18
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Because staff members maintain tools and provide process oversight, laboratory process capability will become limited by the number of staff in the NanoFab. Six major new tools are coming online in 2011: a chemical mechanical polishing tool (CMP), an ion mill, an aligner from ASML (a provider of lithography systems for the semiconductor industry), two FIB systems, and a TEM. The project count has increased 40 percent per year for the past 2 years. The present staffing level will likely be required to increase to sustain future additional tooling or future increases in laboratory processing initiatives. QUALITY OF RESEARCH AND FACILITIES The NanoFab clean-room facility has an impressive array of the most modern commercially available tools for micro- and nanofabrication. The physical facility is excellent, with a clean room and other laboratory space configured for easy access to a wide suite of modern fabrication tools. The equipment capabilities are as modern and complete as in any similar facility in the United States with which the panel is familiar. Over the past 2 years, several new pieces of equipment have been brought online and added to the laboratory capabilities. It appears that most of the tools are characterized and available for general use, with the exception of one of the electron-beam systems. Focused-ion- beam and electron-beam lithography represent the core nanoscale fabrication tools, with sets of deposition, etching, and metrology tools for use in a modest level of process integration for research-scale devices. Although photolithography capability above 1 micrometer is available with several contact printing systems, a needed capability for higher-resolution photolithography is planned with the upcoming acquisition of an i-line stepper. Projects seem primarily to be directed toward a range of inorganic materials, including various semiconductors, metals, graphene, and a limited number of organic materials. The nanofabrication laboratory facilitates a wide range of projects for NIST researchers and, to a lesser extent, activity for academic institutions and industry. Neither a complete summary of projects and users nor a list of projects with users was provided for evaluation by the panel. The quality of the research examples that were presented as being facilitated by the laboratory ranged from highly innovative work to somewhat limited use of less sophisticated processes such as thin-film deposition. Limitations in activity and research facilitated by this laboratory are not due to equipment limitations, but rather to staff availability and the need to prioritize the projects to be supported. ALIGNMENT WITH MISSION As noted, the process activities of the NanoFab program are aligned with the mission of the CNST and NIST. The NanoFab staff is well managed, operates a nanofabrication user facility, and supports the research mission of serving NIST, academia, and industry in measurement activities. The reported increase in both the number of users and of processing hours over the past 2 years in the NanoFab clean room further serves to verify the alignment of the NanoFab with both its mission and the CNST mission. FUTURE PLANS The NanoFab does not appear to have independent research programs, in contrast to the three other research groups comprising the CNST. Rather, the NanoFab staff’s understanding of its role, and consequently the NanoFab mode of operation, has been to maintain the 19
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nanofabrication clean-room laboratory as a user and/or service facility. This effort involves maintaining the facility in excellent working condition, ensuring the operation of complex processing equipment, establishing and maintaining process-control metrics for critical process tools, and developing processing integration methods to assist internal (NIST) and external users of the facility. It is apparent that the NanoFab staff has worked efficiently over the past 2 years with postdoctoral research scientists from NIST and research engineers from industry in satisfying the facility’s processing mission as documented by CNST internal reports and CNST external publications. Future planning goals for the NanoFab program include the installation of three new tools critical for lithography, patterning, and planarization improvements in the clean room during 2011; new tooling justifications in the area of liftoff processing for 2012; improvement in tool uptime, especially for the Vistec e-beam writer; and continued outreach activities to attract more industry users. Future planning discussed during the review did not address staffing needs, which may ultimately limit productivity and new user participation in the NanoFab clean room. Future planning also does not appear to include process-development strategies that would be necessary for the NanoFab staff to stay at the forefront of nanofabrication technologies. EVALUATIVE COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS The nanofabrication laboratory and its highly skilled staff are responsible for a major advance in the research capabilities of the CNST. A dynamic group of researchers including students, postdoctoral researchers, and NIST researchers are engaged in research utilizing this modern capability. The nanofabrication laboratory and its staff clearly address the core mission of operating a shared-use facility, although the facility’s national reach could be broader than it is currently. The NanoFab staff and clean room appear to support, first, NIST researchers; secondly, local academic institutions; and thirdly, industrial users. Although it is not an issue at present, as the laboratory matures and becomes fully functional it will become increasingly important to develop methods for prioritizing access to critical staff time and to the most heavily used capabilities. The following are suggestions for the NanoFab program: In the next review the NanoFab staff should provide to the panel more detailed data on the NanoFab projects and the key enabling processing features for these projects in order to enable a more complete evaluation of the NanoFab. Relatively few data were presented for the current review, and it was difficult for the panel to gain a full understanding of the breadth, the impact, and the overall quality of the work supported by the nanofabrication laboratory. For example, it was stated in presentations that capabilities were available to commercial entities, with no connection to NIST/CNST required, but few examples of such interactions were provided. In the next review the NanoFab staff should present to the panel a plan for evaluating the evolving fabrication needs of the growing nanoscience and nanoengineering community, particularly those of the commercial sector. The current approach seems to be to emulate the existing capabilities of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network and to try to obtain the latest commercially available models of the same tools. There is the opportunity, not yet fully realized, to use the knowledge, technical capabilities, and resources of NIST to develop entirely new nationally available fabrication capabilities. It would be valuable for the CNST to 20
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develop a strategic plan for this facility to address the nanofabrication-related metrology needs and fabrication capabilities of greatest impact on nanomanufacturing in key areas of national economic importance. The CNST should also consider expanding the NanoFab mission to include process-specific developments in nanofabrication and to encourage NanoFab staff members to publish papers related to processing topics. 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. Intellectual property (IP) protection of CNST developments was not emphasized in the CNST technical presentations overall. The CNST should pursue IP protection where appropriate. Specifically, some processing accomplishments in the NanoFab facility are of sufficient merit to warrant IP discussions—for example, (1) deep reactive-ion etch wall process control and (2) uniformity of reactive-ion etch processing with differential pattern loading on a wafer. 21