Research at NanoTech User Facility, University of Washington

By Earl Boysen, Nancy C. Muir, Desiree Dudley, Christine Peterson

The NanoTech User Facility at the University of Washington in Seattle is part of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), whose goal is to support nanotechnology research.

Researchers can use the lab and its sophisticated instruments at a surprisingly low cost; the hourly price tag for using the lab is below the cost of the service contracts required to maintain the instruments. The facility makes up the difference from their funding through the National Science Foundation and the University of Washington.

Although some companies provide this level of equipment within company facilities, not every company can afford such an investment. For them, the lab provides a cost-effective way to pursue nanotechnology research. The instruments that industrial or academic researchers can take advantage of include the following:

  • Transmission electron microscope (TEM) with a resolution of 1.5 Angstrom

  • Scanning electron microscope (SEM) with an E-beam lithography system that can generate patterns with feature sizes as small as 20 nanometers

  • Atomic force microscopes (AFM)

  • Confocal Raman microscope

  • Laser scanning confocal microscope

The facility provides training to qualify researchers on the equipment. If you want to send a few researchers to the NanoTech User Facility for an extended time to run their own tests, you can get office space free of charge. If you’re not a hands-on type, the lab will have their staff run your tests for you.

For example, you send them a sample, their staff runs tests, and the output of the SEM is then displayed to you online. This capability allows you to make suggestions to the staff members running the SEM, so they can optimize their analysis of the sample in real time.

Each lab in the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network has its own area of focus. The Nanotech User Facility takes advantage of expertise at the University of Washington to focus on applications of nanotechnology in biology.

This emphasis on biology is evident in some of the capabilities at the NanoTech User Facility. For example, they demonstrated how the laser confocal microscope provides optical photos of the inside of a cell, which can be used to determine whether quantum dots have penetrated into the cell. (They deduce this from the location of the dots’ emissions.)

Another interesting demonstration of their biological focus was their capability to make arrays of square petrie dishes small enough to allow testing of individual cells.