The acquired nanofabrication and electron microscopy system enhances the research and education capabilities at the University of Texas at Austin in nanometer-scale science and engineering, including the development of new low-cost, efficient materials for solar cells, fuel cells, batteries, nano-electronics, microfluidics, drug delivery, catalysis, health, etc. It also serves as a regional research tool for universities and industries for the study of advanced materials and devices. The fundamental understanding gained on the chemical/physical phenomena seeds transformational breakthroughs in the design of advanced materials and spurs the creation of new technologies. Moreover, the facility where the instrument is located has a profound impact on education and training of students on the campus and beyond, and serves as a focal point for outreach activities for underrepresented student populations through workshops and hands-on training sessions.
The instrument acquired through a Major Research Instrumentation grant comprises a high-resolution dual focused ion beam (FIB)/scanning electron microscope (SEM) system equipped with an electron-beam lithography (EBL) package for the fabrication and characterization of 2-dimensional (2D) and 3-dimensional (3D) materials. The system offers innovative electron and ion optics with state-of-the-art patterning control. Specifically, the instrument combines several key features onto a single platform: (i) device fabrication and testing with both ion-beam (3 nm resolution) and electron-beam (20 nm resolution) patterning, (ii) high throughput traditional (cross-sectional) and plan-view (lamella parallel to the surface) site-specific, thin transmission electron microscopy (TEM) sample preparation with minimal sample damage, (iii) nano-device fabrication and testing, (iv) gas-chemistry technology for materials deposition, and (v) 3D imaging of complex structures with parallel detection of various signals. The ability to prepare site-specific, TEM samples with limited damage enables key research in multiple areas, e.g., preparation of thin solid-state battery samples and monitoring their atomic structure/composition during the charge-discharge process with in-situ TEM. In the realm of microelectronics, the FIB enables preparation of samples for investigating how different growth processes affect boundary structures and compositions in materials, such as oxide heterostructures, essential for memory/communication devices or sensors. The EBL capability enables fabrication of complex electronic devices based on 2D materials, devices for understanding thermoelectric properties of materials at nanoscale, metasurfaces for molecular detection, and biological nanostructures.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.