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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Specialized machine to aid nanotech research

Expanding alongside technology, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UH has secured a grant to purchase a top-notch nanofabrication machine that promises to enhance the department’s ability to develop devices within extremely precise dimensions.

Dmitri Litvinov, professor of electrical and computer engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering, was key in securing $380,000 from the National Science Foundation and $225,000 from the UH Division of Research and the Cullen College of Engineering.

"It is a sophisticated piece of equipment that allows to directly build devices that can puncture into nanoscale. Because of that it is an enabling tool when you work with nanotechnology – in which the principle is to control matter within nanoscale," Litvinov said.

Nanofabrication technology allows computer engineers to fully explore the realm of super-high-density microprocessors and memory chips.

The technology involved deals with devices smaller than five nanometers.

"If you take a big chunk of gold, it is gold; if you take a small amount then you change the properties and it changes color," he said.

This change occurs because the particle is restricted within the nanoscale.

""Laws of physics that describe big objects do not directly apply to objects with nanoscale dimensions," Litvinov said.

One has to have a better understanding of a tiny particle’s behavior before developing a device, he said.

One of the foremost reasons Litvinov pursued the grant to develop a nanofabrication facility was to support research conducted on campus.

A good portion of his project involves making very small magnetic field sensors, and it usually takes a great deal of time to achieve satisfying sensor characteristics.

"There are many other ways of cultivating the condition, but it means several months of work," Litvinov said. "With the (nanofabrication) machine, however, it takes two hours. It greatly accelerates the research process."

The nanofabrication machine compliments materials research and allows for significantly accelerated transmission electron microscopy technology.

"It is a very powerful tool where people can essentially look at individual particles," Litvinov said. "To prepare a sample for electron microscopy, a skilled person would take days to extract a very specific part, but with the device it takes only half-an-hour,"

Litvinov said the machine would prove advantageous to undergraduates as well.

"It will be a showpiece tool for the students to see," Litvinov said.

A 6,000 square foot clean room, housed in the Science and Engineering Research Center, will accommodate the nanofabrication machine. It is expected to launch in November at the earliest, and the commencement will mark Houston’s first glimpse at nanofabrication capability.

The facility is expected to be supported by per-use fees paid by area researchers.

Editors’s note: This article has been amended to correct errors.

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