Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

October 3, 2002

NIU announces creation of two high tech laboratories

DeKalb, Ill.-Northern Illinois University is celebrating the launch of two highly specialized laboratories that will keep faculty and students alike on the cutting-edge of research into nanotechnology and scientific computer modeling at the molecular scale.

The university was awarded a federal grant of $2 million to establish the Laboratory for NanoScience, Engineering and Technology, and another federal grant of $500,000 to create the Laboratory for Structural Analysis and Computer Modeling.

"We need to express our deep gratitude to U.S. Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, who worked on behalf of these proposals and has been a continued supporter of our scientists, students and mission to serve the region," NIU President John Peters said.

Peters announced the creation of the two high-tech laboratories, both housed primarily within physics and chemistry facilities in Faraday Hall and Faraday West, during Thursday's State of the University address. Both laboratories are already operating.

"The NanoScience lab puts NIU on the cutting-edge of research into what many believe will spur the next technological revolution," Peters said.

Distinguished Research Professor Clyde Kimball in the Department of Physics will direct the NanoScience lab. Nanotechnology aims to build electronic circuits and devices from single atoms and molecules. Creation of nano-scale mechanisms and machines could revolutionize numerous industries, from computing to medicine to manufacturing. NIU scientists and students in physics and engineering will use the lab to explore the vast frontier of the quantum, or subatomic, world.

"The basic idea of nanotechnology is to attempt to continue the Silicon Revolution of the 20th century by creating scientific techniques and materials which will enable further miniaturization of electronic and magnetic devices," Kimball said. "The current techniques used to create silicon devices have about reached their limits in terms of miniaturization. New tools and new materials will be needed, and it's not clear that silicon will be the material of choice in the nano-world."

Materials often behave differently when reduced in size to the nano-scale, where the rules of classical physics don't apply, Kimball added. "There exists very little intuition or experience for predicting behavior of these materials because we're now in the quantum realm. It's a whole new wonderful world.

"NIU now will have a strong theoretical program in the simulation of behavior at the nano-scale," Kimball added.

"That's going to be one of the strengths of this program."

Kimball said NIU physicists, engineers and students also will work to develop the next generation of new materials and applications for nanotechnology. The laboratory will collaborate with engineering's Microfabrication Research and Development Laboratory-a "clean-room" facility for creating semiconductor and magnetic devices. Kimball's NanoScience lab also will work with Argonne National Laboratory, which has extensive nanotechnology facilities.

NIU is purchasing several new pieces of high tech equipment for the lab including:

  • A magnetic atomic force microscope, used to study magnetism on the atomic scale.
  • An electron beam lithography system, which enables scientists to develop electronic devices on the nano-scale.
  • A pulsed-laser deposition system, which allows researchers to watch nano-structures grow.
  • And a soft X-ray emission spectrometer, which permits determination of electronic behavior of nano-material. There is only one other such device in the world, Kimball said.

Meanwhile, the Laboratory for Structural Analysis and Computer Modeling is operated by the NIU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The lab's high-tech instrumentation gives scientists new insight into how materials such as protein molecules and nanotechnology devices are constructed at the molecular level.

"While the lab is a boon to faculty researchers on campus, our students also are big winners," Peters said.

"They are now learning how to use the most advanced analysis and computer-modeling tools in the nation."

"We're really excited about the new laboratory," added Biochemistry and Chemistry Chair Jim Erman. "It will enhance our department's ability to provide high-quality undergraduate and graduate education in chemistry. And since our faculty members often serve as consultants to business, this also holds the potential to help private industry in our region and beyond."

The laboratory boasts scientific instrumentation necessary for comprehensive structural characterization of a wide range of materials, including large biological molecules, new synthetic compounds, solid-state materials and small devices used in nanotechnology. The computer-modeling component of the laboratory will augment structural analysis by using computational methods to investigate the theoretical basis for chemical and physical properties of materials.

New laboratory equipment includes:

  • A mass spectrometer used to determine molecular masses for a wide range of large molecules.
  • A Raman Spectrometer, which complements infrared spectroscopy to determine the vibrational structure of materials.
  • And a network of computers with specialized software that will provide NIU with one of the finest computational modeling facilities in the nation.