Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility to support Institute for Molecular Engineering projects

The University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering will build a major new facility for nanoscale fabrication within the William Eckhardt Research Center, supported by a $15 million gift from the Pritzker Foundation.

In recognition of the gift, the 12,000-square-foot facility in the heart of the Hyde Park campus will be named the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility.

With an advanced toolset and enough space for a wide range of projects, the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility will support work on new applications in computing, health care, communications, smart materials and more. Products could include advanced computer processors, quantum-bit processors, sensors, detectors, lasers, micromechanical systems and bionano devices.

“The Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility will put highly sophisticated tools in the hands of researchers, providing critical support to the work of faculty in our Institute for Molecular Engineering, as well as offering new opportunities for inquiry in related areas,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “I am deeply grateful to the Pritzkers, whose generosity will benefit the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the University, and enhance Chicago as a hub for discovery and innovation.”

“We believe the new nanofabrication facility holds great promise for breakthroughs that can transform fields of study and improve human life,” said Thomas J. Pritzker, on behalf of the Pritzker Foundation. “We understand that this kind of project can’t be done piecemeal. It takes a significant investment, and we believe this facility will be an important contribution to greater Chicago’s innovation ecosystem.”

The gift brings the total Pritzker Foundation contribution in support of the Institute for Molecular Engineering to $25 million, including a 2011 gift recognized with the naming of the Institute’s directorship.

'Regional and National Resource'

The William Eckhardt Research Center, a major new home for the physical sciences and molecular engineering located on Ellis Avenue, is scheduled to open in early 2015. It will house the Institute for Molecular Engineering, along with other faculty offices and laboratories for the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics.

The building was specially engineered to account for the particular needs of a large clean room. The creation of the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility will fulfill the vision for a multidisciplinary, state-of-the-art facility that will provide distinct advantages.

“In size, in the variety of work it can support and in the technology of the toolset, the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility will be a regional and national resource the day its doors open,” said Matthew Tirrell, the Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering. “Having a facility like this at the center of campus makes a powerful statement about the University’s commitment to these emerging fields of discovery.”

The Institute for Molecular Engineering will manage the facility, which it also will make available to researchers across the University, as well as to external users, including other institutions and industry.

Innovation at the Nanoscale

The Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility will house a suite of tools that can fabricate complex, integrated electronic, mechanical and fluidic structures. Work at the facility is expected to bridge the gap between academia and industry, leading to the creation of new nanotechnology applications. The scale of these applications can be as small as a few atoms.

One example of such an application would be a tiny, ultra-low power device that combines computation, communication and storage capabilities. To do that, scientists will go beyond conventional electronics that move charges in electrical circuits to multifunctional quantum devices that manipulate the spins of electrons.

Another potential application of nanofabrication would be a device that can detect and count virus particles in blood.

“Having a world-class nanofabrication facility on campus will dramatically enhance the capacity of the Institute for Molecular Engineering and change the dynamics of interactions with numerous departments, Argonne National Laboratory and researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Illinois and startup companies in Chicago,” said David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering.

“The clean room will serve as a common meeting ground for students in engineering, materials science, biology, physics and chemistry; they will all work in the same facility, exploiting advanced fabrication capabilities to prototype new devices and technology concepts,” Awschalom added. “Sharing tools and exchanging ideas among students and faculty within a multiuser facility will catalyze research projects, and help develop solutions to problems in their respective fields. This infrastructure will be extremely important to our experimental efforts in atomic-scale electronics, and its presence will drive new directions in quantum engineering.”

Growing Research Infrastructure

The Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility adds another key piece of infrastructure to a growing set of programs and venues that support scientists working at the intersection of basic scientific research and the innovation of new technologies.

University officials said that the new facility will complement the nanoscale research infrastructure already in place at Argonne National Laboratory. The new facility also will provide another key resource for scientists and entrepreneurs seeking to bring new discoveries to practical application through the recently opened Chicago Innovation Exchange.

The Institute for Molecular Engineering was created at the University of Chicago in 2011, in partnership with Argonne National Laboratory. The Institute is designed to explore fundamental societal challenges such as safe drinking water, cancer prevention and efficient energy storage, through advances in nanoscale manipulation and molecular design.

Since its founding, the Institute has recruited eight scientists of international stature on the way to a projected faculty of at least 24, as well as launching a PhD program and an undergraduate curriculum.