April 21, 2014

IME gets new nanofabrication facility

A $15 million donation from the Pritzker Foundation to the University of Chicago Institute for Molecular Engineering (IME) will fund a new Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility, to be built inside the upcoming William Eckhardt Research Center.

According to a University press release, the 12,000-square-foot facility “will support work on new applications in computing, health care, communications, smart materials, and more.” The Pritzker facility is designed to supplement the nanoscale research infrastructure of the Argonne National Laboratory, and will have a focus on quantum engineering and nanoscale manipulation and molecular design in particular.

The site of the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility, the William Eckhardt Research Center, will open in September 2015. The Facility will open several months later after being outfitted with nanofabrication equipment. The Eckhardt Research Center will also contain other facilities for the IME, offices and laboratories for the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics.

A major motive in building the Nanofabrication Facility was to create a space for a large “clean room” space on campus. A clean room acts as a physical room in which to contain airborne particles and contaminants. The existence of a clean room of this particular size will promote collaboration because of its unique size. The hope is that the clean room will act as a meeting space for roundtable discussions about innovation in and around Chicago.

The Eckhardt Center was designed with a facility incorporating a clean room in mind. “The building was specially engineered to account for the particular needs of a large clean room. The creation of the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility will fulfill the vision for a multidisciplinary, state-of-the-art facility,” the press release said.

IME Director Matthew Tirrell said the facility will also allow for collaboration with industry. “The nanofabrication facility will generate partnerships with the microelectronics industry, with the medical device industry, and other types of industries making sensors and actuators,” he said in an e-mail.

IME professor David Awschalom said that the Pritzker facility will encourage collaboration between the Chicago Innovation Exchange, industry groups, and the IME.

“It is often the case that start-up companies develop new concepts and fabricate prototypes through collaborative research projects with students and faculty,” he said in an e-mail. “The Innovation Exchange will serve as means to efficiently interface between the campus and corporate worlds.”