Sandia LabNews

Sandia/Los Alamos Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies moves forward

With an urgency not often seen from Washington, the expected date for the conceptual design report for the Sandia/Los Alamos Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT) has been moved up from January 2002 to this month.

DOE review of the fledgling program is now expected to take place Dec. 10-11, rather than in February, says Terry Michalske (1040), interim CINT director. The speed-up involves “the need to be prepared to accept FY02 capital funds,” he says.

Nanotechnologies operate at sizes approximately a thousand times smaller than microtechnologies. (Nano refers to a nanometer, a billionth of a meter.)

Nanotechnologies are of interest not because they can be used to make very small structures, says Terry, but because the commonly understood properties of ordinary materials change dramatically and, it is hoped, usefully for those who can integrate these new capabilities into the micro or even macroworld.

Silicon, for example, in nanosized clumps emits light, offering a new realm of operation for a mainstay semiconductor material widely known for controlling electrons but not photons. The fluidity and friction of apparently well-characterized materials change unpredictably. Gold and copper become as hard as ceramics.

It’s like alchemy

“It’s like alchemy,” says Terry. “You start with the same material and make it do something completely new. We know a lot, yet much of the nanoworld remains a mystery. This is why nanoscience has captured the interest of the scientific community.”

Proof of wide interest in the science and the proposed Center came when a CINT planning workshop, held in Albuquerque Sept. 28-29 and expected to attract perhaps 60 participants, attracted applications from more than 200 scientists from 24 states (48 universities, 14 companies, 12 laboratories) as well as a smattering of researchers from abroad. “People we hadn’t accepted appeared at the door, apparently under the assumption that if they traveled a long distance and just showed up, we wouldn’t turn them away,” says Terry. Hotel capacity regulations limited official attendance to 168.

The 80,000-square-foot Center is expected to be located outside Kirtland AFB north of the Eubank gate and west of the Research Park on DOE-owned land. It will be open to researchers — visiting scholars, postdoctoral associates, graduate research assistants, and undergraduate interns — from around the world who have received appropriate DOE approval, says Terry.

Sandia and Los Alamos researchers who could not attend the workshop will be briefed at their respective labs in meetings to take place before the holiday break.

$400 million doesn’t get you in door

The amount authorized by DOE to build two facilities — $45-$50 million in Albuquerque for CINT’s core facility, $15-$20 million at Los Alamos for a CINT Gateway — is not a large amount on the world stage, where European countries and others have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to construct and staff similar centers. What CINT will have that these centers do not is access to already-in-place facilities that, says Terry, dwarf what almost any new center could marshal. “Four hundred million dollars doesn’t even get you in the door,” he says.

These include, through deliberately constructed “gateways” into the two national labs, access to Sandia’s Microelectronics Development Lab and Compound Semiconductor Research Lab, as well as its capabilities in materials synthesis, scanning probes, and theory and simulation computers and personnel. Access through the gateway to Los Alamos means connections with LANL’s biosciences resources, its National High Magnetic Fields Lab and Neutron Science Center, its scanning probes, and its theory and simulation centers.

The “gateways” are not mere terms but physical locations — at Sandia, Bldg. 897, and at Los Alamos, to be built — at which outside personnel can write proposals and conduct research with CINT staff.

At the core facility off Eubank Blvd., office suites for staff and visitor accommodations will include computer bays and communication links in 15,000 square feet of space. The core facility will also include wings in which to perform nanomaterials synthesis (15,000 sq.ft.), characterization with isolation from vibrations (15,000 sq.ft.), and a Class 1000 clean room with flexible fabrication facilities (14,000 sq.ft.) at which to integrate designs. The core research group will include approximately 40 in-house researchers, 100 researchers from universities, industry, and other locations at the two national labs, 40 postdocs, and 40 undergraduate students.

The road to acceptance of the Sandia/Los Alamos proposal was not without surprises. After the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy initiated a National Nanoscience Initiative in January 1999, and DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences office recommended establishing “nanocenters,” five groups submitted construction bids. One, Argonne National Laboratory, had already received a substantial promise of funds — $37 million — from its home state of Illinois. Still, when the independent evaluation was completed, Argonne was not rated among the top three, though hopes were high for next year. Brookhaven National Lab also did not make the cut. Other “nanocenter” proposals selected were from Lawrence Berkeley and Oak Ridge national laboratories.

A Sandia/Los Alamos/University of New Mexico bid was accepted — with the proviso that UNM be dropped from the governing board of the Center, because CINT’s charter is to be open impartially to researchers from every university. UNM’s position as a governing entity would, politicians from other states decided, give it an unfair advantage. The University of New Mexico agreed to remove itself from its governance position in the CINT proposal, but plans to be an active participant in CINT. The Sandia proposal cadre consisted of Charles Barbour (1112), Jeff Brinker (1846), Bruce Bunker (1140), Terry, and Jerry Simmons (1123).

CINT is expected to have four areas of expertise: photonics lattices and quantum clusters; complex self-assembling nanostructures; the mechanics of behavior at the nanoscale; and importation of biological principals and functions into nano- and microsystems.

While research at such tiny dimensions may seem removed from usefulness in the macroworld, a billion times larger in scale, some clues come from biology. “Living systems use nanodevices all the time,” says Terry. “An elephant starts out as a collection of nanomachines. The reason a person can take notes at a lecture is that molecules travel along protein walkways that nature organized into an architectural system that allows you to manipulate a pencil. Nature starts with molecules and chemical pathways, and then integrates molecular machines into larger structures — cell membranes, mitochondria — that organize into cells at the micron level, and these cells into tissues.”

“Our mission at CINT is not just nanoscience,” he says. “It’s to lay the scientific groundwork for future devices that will change our lives. We have to be on the boundary where science is converted to technology.” Just the same, he says, “we need to explore and develop the basic science. We don’t even know what the architecture of these larger systems is or what the principles are that govern it. A little nanowalker can’t do anything until integrated into the next level of structure.

“Our challenge is to get nanoscience out of the beaker and into the world around us.”