CNST NanoFab Mission Statement
The CNST NanoFab provides a means to access advanced nanofabrication and measurement instrumentation on a fee-based, shared use basis. It includes tools for patterning semiconductor and other materials via photolithographic, electron beam, or nanoimprint lithographic methods as well optical, electron, and ion based measurement tools. It is located in both a 19,000 square foot cleanroom (which includes 8,000 square feet of class 100 space) and in an adjacent laboratory building (216) of NIST’ Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML) complex.
The CNST mission, briefly put, is to focus on solving nanoscale measurement problems that are encumbering the development of nanotechnology. The missions of the DoE and NNIN networks are more general and include, for example, providing the necessary resources for discovery research in nanotechnology.
The DoE Nanocenters provide access to tools based on an external, peer review system and only charge for proprietary services; non-proprietary services are free. The NNIN Centers charge a fee for proprietary services and require only a project review for safety, potential impact on cleanliness, efficient use of tools, etc. The NSF-supported NNIN Centers also offer the academic community a rate that is substantially less than their proprietary rate.
The CNST NanoFab operates in a very similar manner to the NNIN centers in terms of cost to users. Both charge hourly fees for tool use. As CNST has a specific measurement mission, some portion of the NanoFab charges may be waived (as discussed below) for projects that advance nanoscale measurement and, thereby, the productive use of nanotechnology. With a fee waiver, CNST costs are expected to be similar to the academic rate at NSF-supported NNIN facilities.
But since the CNST’s mission is different — to facilitate partnering with users to solve measurement problems — we are not trying to specifically encourage discovery research, as is the case with the DOE and NSF centers. Rather, we aim to encourage the production of nanotechnology-based applications.
The staff time in the DoE centers is typically split between research and user support on a 50-50 basis, with each staff member doing both functions. At the NNIN centers, the staff only does user support. At CNST, the NanoFab is operated by Process Engineers on staff who generally come from the semiconductor industry and are 100% dedicated to user support. The Research Program staff is dedicated to research on new measurement methods 100% of the time and interact with users through collaborative research projects.
The use of the modified-NNIN model positions CNST very well to accomplish its mission. It allows CNST to focus its resources to remove the encumbering nanotechnology measurement problem. It allows us to encourage those industrial, academic, and government agencies eager to partner with us on solving measurement problems that although critical to industry, might not receive high marks relative to discovery research in a peer review process. It allows industrial users to perform proprietary research in the NanoFab, should they choose, without endangering their intellectual property rights.
Industrial, academic, government, and foreign personnel may use the facility as Outside Users.
To use the NanoFab, all users submit a brief proposal. The CNST NanoFab staff will review the project to see that it is safe to do, that it will not compromise the cleanliness of the facility or degrade the tools, that it will not unduly prevent others from using necessary tools, and is compatible with the available resources. Following approval, users sign an agreement, establish an account, and transfer funds to cover anticipated costs. All cleanroom users must take orientation, cleanroom protocol, and safety training and pass a safety examination before they are allowed in the clean room. Users of tools located outside the cleanroom do not require the cleanroom safety course or test. Users will also need to be trained or demonstrate proficiency on the tools they wish to use themselves. Outside users may need to fulfill some additional requirements related to site security. Time is generally scheduled on a first-come-first-served-basis for proposers whose projects are accepted by the CNST NanoFab staff.
The NanoFab staff offers three levels of assistance to the users:
- Equipment training: The users are given hands-on training on any specific tool they require. This is a basic training which allows the user to operate the tool in a safe manner and run a standard process recipe. The training itself is free of charge (no charge for staff time or tool usage). The only charge is the base cleanroom entry fee if the equipment is located in the clean room.
- Tool operation: CNST Process Engineers can operate the tool for you to run a pre-determined process recipe. This will incur a charge for the time of the Process Engineer in addition to the normal hourly usage cost of the tool.
- Process Development: If your project requires the development of a non-standard process aimed at specific goals, NanoFab staff will assist the user in developing the process recipes to reach this goal. Examples: achieving a given thin film roughness, use of non-standard substrates, plasma etching of a new material, etc. This requirement should be clearly identified and discussed during the initial interview with the NanoFab manager so the technical aspects as well as financial cost estimate of the development can be accurately evaluated. Process Engineering time plus normal hourly usage of the tool will be charged.
The CNST NanoFab operates in a similar fashion as regard to costs as do facilities in the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN). Each tool has an hourly cost of use based on the full cost recovery for using that tool. This includes the cost of most supplies, maintenance, training, etc. There is also a nominal hourly charge for cleanroom use that covers gowning, incidental supplies, etc. The hourly rates for using the CNST tools are similar to the full cost recovery rates charged for proprietary research at the NNIN Centers.
CNST has a specific mission: to provide measurement solutions to advance the productive use of nanotechnology. Consequently, CNST encourages this research direction. NIST has developed policies and procedures for granting a partial waiver of fees for users doing non-proprietary, CNST mission-related research.
With fee waivers, rates are expected to be similar to those charged at DoE Nanocenters and NSF-supported NNIN academic centers. Research not intended to be published will not be eligible for a waiver.
There is a very wide range of interactions possible with CNST. The type of interaction agreed upon for your project will be based on whether your research is proprietary or nonproprietary and the level of collaboration, and will include appropriate provisions governing intellectual property. NIST has a long record of cooperation — formal and informal — with outside organizations. Agreements used to formalize these collaborations include Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, Guest Research Agreements, and Facilities User Agreements. Each type of agreement describes in detail the protection and ownership of intellectual property under that agreement. The agreement used to formalize your collaboration with the CNST will include the intellectual property provisions that are most appropriate for that collaboration.
External users performing proprietary research in which NIST employees do not participate generally will retain all intellectual property rights. External users conducting collaborative research with NIST employees will negotiate appropriate intellectual property terms in their agreements.