Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

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

March 13, 2003

NIU, Argonne team up on nanotechnology

DeKalb, Ill.-Northern Illinois University and Argonne National Laboratory have formally agreed to collaborate on basic research in nanotechnology, an emerging field that many scientists believe will spur the next technological revolution.

Nanotechnology aims to develop materials, electronics and machines at the smallest of scales, with dimensions of 10 to 1,000 atoms in length. The ability to create nanometer-scale building blocks with precisely controlled size and composition and to reassemble them into larger structures and mechanisms could revolutionize numerous industries, from computing to medicine to manufacturing.

Key Points
  • “This project will also help provide research opportunities for America’s next generation of scientists.”
    -— Argonne’s Hermann Grunder
  • In 2002, NIU opened its new Nanoscience laboratory, made possible with a $2 million federal grant.
  • NIU will contribute $200,000 toward the purchase of equipment for creating nano-devices.

NIU and Argonne each have been aggressively expanding their nanotechnology programs. The new collaboration between the two institutions involves the Division of Materials Science and the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne and the NIU Department of Physics

The collaboration will result in the sharing of resources, the joint hiring of several new scientists and the creation of highly specialized programs for the development of nanometer-scale templates, structures and other materials. It also represents a golden opportunity for NIU physics students, who will work alongside faculty and Argonne researchers. Eventually, students and faculty from electrical engineering, chemistry and biology will likely be involved in the research collaboration as well.

"With this collaboration, our students stand at the research forefront of a technological revolution," NIU President John Peters said. "We're proud to be working closely with Argonne National Laboratory, which has a rich history of brilliant research. Our two institutions have complementary goals and capabilities. And working together we can accomplish much more than we ever could working alone."

"Argonne is happy to collaborate with NIU on this important research effort," said Argonne Director Hermann Grunder. "Nanotechnology promises important advances in health care, industrial processes and materials and electronics. This project will also help provide research opportunities for America's next generation of scientists."

The United States' first national laboratory, Argonne employs some 1,400 scientists and conducts basic and applied research in a wide range of areas. The University of Chicago operates Argonne as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's national laboratory system. Argonne's main campus near suburban Lemont is home to sophisticated research facilities, including the Advanced Photon Source (APS). The APS produces some of the world's most powerful X-ray beams, able to capture nano-scale wonders, such as still photographs of proteins or moving pictures of molecules.

NIU scientists and students have long participated in Argonne research. And last fall the university made a quantum leap forward in its program for nanotechnology with the opening of the Laboratory for NanoScience, Engineering and Technology, made possible with a $2 million federal grant. Northern scientists and students in physics and engineering are using the lab to explore the subatomic world and develop the next generation of materials and applications for nanotechnology.

"Both undergraduate and graduate students will participate in this new research collaboration at Argonne, providing opportunities for interaction with some of the world's leading scientists and preparing students for employment in a burgeoning field," said Clyde Kimball, director of NIU's nanoscience laboratory.

Kimball's lab boasts a number of unique tools and facilities used to probe matter on the nano-scale. The high-tech equipment includes:

  • 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.

As part of its agreement with Argonne, Northern's NanoScience, Engineering & Technology Laboratory is providing $200,000 toward the purchase of a dual-focused ion beam lithography system, used for the creation of nano-devices. The two institutions also have agreed to jointly hire tenure track theorists and an experimental nanoscientist. In addition, the institutions will hire postdoctoral fellows to work under the supervision of NIU Physics Professor Michel van Veenendaal, George Srajer of the Advanced Photon Source and George Crabtree, director of the Materials Science Division at Argonne.

"Nanoscience is a truly interdisciplinary enterprise, drawing on materials and phenomena that cut across traditional boundaries between physics, chemistry, biology and engineering," Crabtree said. "Argonne's collaboration with NIU expands the horizon of what is possible by integrating forefront facilities and creative scientists at both institutions in a synergistic collaboration. We are eager to begin this exciting journey."

"This collaboration really is a boon for the physics program," Kimball added. "We are gaining significant new strength and prestige in nanoscience synthesis and theory. And the faculty additions and the strong connection with experimental facilities at Argonne also will help us to recruit the best graduate students. These students, in turn, will carry out components of their research at Argonne, providing a ready source of talent for its scientific programs and for commercial nanotech enterprises in Illinois."