A really clean room
When you're working with nano-scale sized particles, even the smallest speck of dust can seem like a boulder.
That's why NTNU's NanoLab's clean room, which was inaugurated May 12, is designed to keep dust – or boulders, depending on your perspective – out. The lab and its equipment cost NOK 200 million, with NOK 144 million financed by the university, and the remainder from the Research Council of Norway and SINTEF, which continues to work collaboratively with NTNU on the project.
The clean room is equipped with highly advanced filtering and vibration control systems to enable scientists to make ultra precise measurements and manipulate materials at the nanoscale. "This makes the laboratory unique in Norway today," says Bjørn Torger Stokke, chair of the board for NTNU NanoLab. Erik Wahlstrøm, acting director of the initiative, says both the lab's opening – and the technology used to build the lab – are major milestones.
A meeting of chemistry, physics and biology
The new laboratory gives researchers access to the kinds of cutting-edge tools and facilities they need to do their work. There are actually five rooms, one for synthesis using chemical methods, one for synthesis using physical methods and a third for bionanotechnological research. Two other rooms are designed for characterization and other research. The entire laboratory has been built at a safety level that will allow work with genetically modified organisms, which means that researchers and their samples can move between the different rooms if necessary. The lab is currently outfitted with:
- NIL (nano imprinting lithography)
- EBL-SEM (electron beam lithography with scanning electron microscope)
- FEG-SEM (field emission gun scanning electron microscope)
- ICP-RIE (inductively coupled plasma reactive ion etch)
- FIB (focused ion beam)
- S(T)EM (scanning tunnelling electron microscope
- AFM (atomic force microscope)
- SCEM (scanning electrochemical microscope)
- Particle size analyser
New tools, new technology
Given NTNU's current expertise in alternative and renewable energy, researchers are expected to use the laboratory to create more efficient solar cells, catalysts for cleaner processes, and membranes that could separate CO2 from exhaust gases.
Other possible areas of research are in sensors in biomedicine, information storage that is not dependent on power, information storage that is not affected by strong magnetic fields, and the growth of nanometre size fibres for optics and other applications.