1. How do I get started?
We strongly encourage anyone interested in starting a project at the NanoFab to begin by discussing it with the NanoFab Manager. If you are new to nanofabrication, the NanoFab Manager can discuss with you possible ways to make or measure your nanoscale components. If you are experienced in nanofabrication, he can discuss with you what tools and processes we have available to meet your project needs. The NanoFab Manager can also provide you with an overview of the application process and payment options, along with the orientation and training requirements. When you are ready to begin your new project, you will fill out a Project Application and return it to the Facility User Coordinator. The Facility User Coordinator will then guide you through the rest of the process. See the Getting Started page for step-by-step instructions.
2. How long does it take to get a project started?
The project application process averages about two weeks from application submission to project approval, at which point an initial payment must be made and an orientation session scheduled. There are a number of factors that affect how quickly you can come to NIST and get started in the NanoFab. First, we review applications every Tuesday; therefore, if you submit your application by 5 pm on a Monday, it will be reviewed that week. Second, as soon as possible, you should discuss with your organization and the NanoFab Facility User Coordinator the most efficient way to transfer funds to the NanoFab sufficient to cover the estimated cost of your project. Finally, you will need to be cleared by NIST Security to access the NIST campus and NanoFab laboratories. If you already have a NIST badge as an employee or Guest Researcher, there are no additional access requirements. If you are a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident, a badge providing access can be issued within a few days of project approval. If you are a foreign national, it will take at least an additional 30 days to be approved for a badge. However, during that time we can usually arrange for a one or two day visit to complete orientation and some initial training to help you get started as quickly as possible.
3. Do I need to collaborate with a NIST researcher to work at the NanoFab?
Absolutely not. The NanoFab is accessible to anyone eligible to visit the NIST campus, and identical rates are offered to everyone, both inside and outside of NIST. Although projects associated with NIST collaborations are welcome, there is no specific need to collaborate with a NIST staff member in order to use the NanoFab. Note that on-site collaboration with NIST generally requires a Guest Researcher Agreement, which assigns certain intellectual property rights to NIST (rights not surrendered under the NanoFab Facilities Use Agreement otherwise required for external users).
4. Am I eligible for the lower, cost-shared rates if I fill out an External Project Application?
Non-proprietary projects may be eligible for cost-sharing by the CNST, resulting in reduced rates charged to the project. NIST Internal Projects are automatically eligible for the lower rates. Non-proprietary External Projects can request consideration (by completing section E of the application), and the project will be rated on the extent that it contributes to the NIST and CNST missions to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing nanotechnology from discovery to production. All such requests are decided on a case by case basis, typically within 10 days of your application being submitted. Note that as a matter of NIST policy, proprietary projects are not eligible for the lower rates and must pay the full cost for work performed in the NanoFab. See Access Policies for additional information about this policy, and Rates for a current list of the full and cost-shared rates.
5. What is the difference between the full rate and cost-shared rates?
At its current budget appropriation, the CNST is able to contribute about 60% of the cost of non-proprietary projects that the CNST Director has determined will contribute to the NIST and CNST missions. See Rates for a current list.
6. Common questions about proprietary research and intellectual property:
Note that this is a complex topic and the following is provided as general information only. We recommend that you consult an attorney if you have concerns about disclosure of trade secrets or assignment of intellectual property rights.
a. What is the difference between proprietary and nonproprietary research?
The distinction between proprietary and non-proprietary research is related to public disclosure, not intellectual property (as is often assumed). Typically, the results of non-proprietary research will be freely shared with the public, either by the researchers themselves via publications and/or presentations, or by the CNST in the form of reports, web pages, etc. As a facility operated by the federal government, work performed at the CNST with the assistance of federal employees is generally subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Therefore, if any federal employees have been involved in the research in any way, unless they were involved as part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (a very unusual arrangement in the NanoFab), the research will be considered non-proprietary. In general terms, you are doing proprietary research if all the work will be performed directly by you and other members of your organization, and you do not intend to share with anyone outside your organization—including any members of the NanoFab staff— the specifics of what you are doing, how you are doing it, or what you learn.
b. When should I check the box indicating "This project includes proprietary research"?
You should check that box when you do not intend to share what you are doing with anyone outside your organization, and will perform all work on the project independently, with no consultation or direct involvement of any NanoFab staff members. You will be charged the full rates for such work.
c. I want to use the NanoFab to develop a proprietary product, am I therefore required to call it a proprietary project?
The end use of something made or measured in the NanoFab is not what determines whether the project is proprietary, only the criteria for being a proprietary project as summarized above.
d. What if there is a small proprietary element to our project but most of it are generic processes?
There is a simple approach to this situation that works well in most cases. We suggest you create two separate project applications, one for a non-proprietary project and one for a proprietary project. (You will receive two account numbers.) Use the non-proprietary project for the generic processes you are willing to share, such as base-line process development, and for acquiring sufficient proficiency to operate the needed tools and processes without NanoFab staff assistance. Then use the proprietary project for the work you would like to protect from public disclosure and will therefore perform by yourself.
e. Will NIST have rights to my intellectual property?
NIST does not claim any inherent rights to inventions made in the course of any NanoFab project. Ownership and rights to any such inventions are determined solely by who the inventors are. Unless one of the inventors is a NIST employee or Guest Researcher, NIST will not have any rights to your invention. If you co-invent something with a NIST employee, NIST will jointly own that invention, with the same rights it would have for any intellectual property co-invented by a NIST federal employee. NIST's rights to inventions by a Guest Researcher are described in the Guest Researcher Agreement; for example, see the Domestic Guest Researcher Agreement.