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Boulder Microfabrication Facility: Science Impacts


process tool inspection
Inspection of a wafer inside a process chamber in the Boulder Microfabrication Facility, a crucial resource for NIST research.

Groups that are major users of the cleanroom and details of their projects are listed below.


superconducting micro-resonator
NIST researchers applied a special form of microwave light to cool a microscopic aluminum drum to an energy level below the generally accepted limit, to just one fifth of a single quantum of energy. Having a diameter of 20 micrometers and a thickness of 100 nanometers, the drum beat 10 million times per second while its range of motion fell to nearly zero.

Advanced Microwave Photonics Group

The Advanced Microwave Photonics Group focuses on novel ways to couple quantum electrical and mechanical circuits with an emphasis on problems in quantum information and the limits of measurement. This project takes advantage of superconductivity at low temperatures, Josephson junctions, mechanical elements, and careful circuit design to develop quantum bits (qubits), mechanical and electrical resonators, tunable couplers, and electrical measurement techniques to exploit the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics to improve computing, simulation, and high precision measurements. They use the BMF to fabricate most of their devices.

10 V programmable voltage standard
The 10 V programmable voltage standard is a quantum-mechanically precise frequency to voltage converter that provides the standard volt for the United States. This chip supports unified international commerce through voltage standards, re-definition of the kg through the Watt balance method, and temperature standards. This chips is one of the more complex chips that the BMF supports and contains about a quarter-million Josephson junctions.

Superconductive Electronics Group

The Superconductive Electronics Group utilizes the quantum effects of Josephson junctions in specialized superconducting integrated circuits to improve measurement technology and standards for fundamental metrology, such as for dc and ac voltage, waveform synthesis, and primary thermometry, and for applications that require high-performance, such as energy-efficient advanced computing and RF communications. The Quantum Voltage and Noise Thermometry Projects develop and disseminate standard reference instruments and measurement best practices for dc and ac voltage metrology, RF metrology and primary thermometry. The Flux Quantum Electronics Project develops cryogenic superconductive circuits and measurement techniques for advanced, energy-efficient computing, RF communications, and electrical metrology. The group uses the BMF to fabricate all of their devices.

NIST logo in GaN nanowires
This image shows the NIST logo made from glowing nanowire LEDs. While the color of the nanowires in the image looks blue, they are actually emitting in the ultraviolet with a wavelength of approximately 380 nm.  The other two images, from a scanning electron microscope, show the overall structure of the nanowires.

Quantitative Nanostructure Characterization Group

Nanostructures are a critical component of innovations in high performance computing, electronics, energy conservation, renewable energy, biomedical research, and health care. The Quantitative Nanostructures Characterization Group develops and demonstrates metrology techniques to address nanoscale measurement challenges. These techniques include scanning microwave microscopy, atom probe tomography, transmission electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, and time-resolved photoluminescence. Our goal is to push these methods beyond comparative measurements by evaluating absolute uncertainties with cross-method comparisons and calibration techniques that reveal systematic errors. They use the BMF to synthesize semiconductor nanostructures to serve both as test structures for measurement techniques and as building blocks for novel metrology tools.

Vector Network Analyzer Calibration Kit
This Vector Network Analyzer (VNA) calibration kit is used to correct S-parameter measurements used to characterize RF signal transmission and reflection. In keeping with the NIST-on-a-Chip theme, VNA calibrations which previously required a bulky set of calibration devices that had to be carefully applied and removed can now be performed with all of these devices on a 1 cm2 chip. This capability not only speeds up calibration, but also enables new materials measurement techniques.

Radio-Frequency Electronics Group

The RF Electronics Group conducts theoretical and experimental research to develop basic metrology, special measurement techniques, and measurement standards necessary for advancing both conventional and microcircuit guided-wave technologies; for characterizing active and passive devices and networks; and for providing measurement services for scattering parameters, power, waveform, noise, material properties, and other basic quantities. The group uses the BMF to fabricate many of their electronic devices.

NIST chip-scale magnetometer
The NIST chip-scale magnetometer sensor is about as tall as a grain of rice. The widest block near the top of the device is an enclosed, transparent cell that holds a vapor of rubidium atoms.

Atomic Devices and Instrumentation Group

Instruments based on spectroscopy of atoms in the vapor phase, such as atomic clocks, atomic wavelength references, atom interferometers and atomic magnetometers, currently achieve outstanding levels of precision and sensitivity. However, most of these instruments are too large and complex to be operated easily outside the laboratory. The Atomic Devices and Instruments Group designs, builds and tests highly miniaturized versions of these instruments using innovative application of techniques of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). The group uses the BMF to fabricate many of their electronic devices.

SmartMirror for laser-based manufacturing
We have recently demonstrated a micromachined radiation pressure sensor having a noise floor of 1 W/Hz^-1/2. The mirror is implemented for in-situ laser-based manufacturing. The multifunction sensor is fast (milliseconds) and is capable of measuring laser power up to 1 kW by means of a Bragg mirror grown on the micromachined structure.

Sources and Detectors Group

The Sources and Detectors Group conducts research on the characterization of lasers, detectors, and related components. Principally through measurement services and innovation, the group provides the optoelectronics industry with traceability to national standards. Activities of the group are currently carried out in three project areas: Laser Radiometry, Laser Applications, and Terahertz Imaging and Sources. Examples of some of these devices fabricated in the BMF include: Superconducting Planar Nanotube Radiometers, Absolute Radiometers for Space Research, and SmartMirrors for laser-based manufacturing.

a new quantum drum
A false-colored scanning electron micrograph of a circuit under study in the Lehnert lab. The dc electrode (red) makes it possible to adjust the circuit. The capacitor includes a flexible, vibrating drum (yellow) that can store and manipulate microwave signals. This capability could lead to the development of cable- or optical-fiber-based quantum microwave networks capable of using and transmitting separate, mismatched microwave signals.

Lehnert Group at JILA

The Lehnert Group develops quantum coherent interfaces that allow the transfer of information between superconducting qubits, propagating light fields, and trapped ion qubits, to enable the development of quantum networks and distributed quantum information processors. Most of the groups devices are manufactured in the BMF.

Four-element superconducting nanowire single-photon detector
Scanning electron micrograph of a four-element superconducting nanowire single-photon detector. The nanowires are 80nm in width and patterned to cover an approximately 14 μm-diameter active area with 60nm gaps between the nanowires. We highlight the four electrically independent nanowires with different colors in the magnified view on the right. The electrically disconnected, uncolored features at the top of this micrograph are fabricated to improve the patterning uniformity of the nanowires in the active area.

Faint Photonics Group

The Faint Photonics Group develops new light sources, detectors, and measurement techniques that operate at the few photon limit to address national needs in the areas of quantum information science, remote sensing, long-distance communications, and imaging. The smallest unit of light is a "photon". Generation, manipulation and measurement of light at or near the fundamental limit of a photon can enhance the performance of many optical systems. Remote sensing, long-distance communications, biological imaging, and quantum information science are some near-term applications that would benefit immensely from better optical components and techniques that work efficiently at few or single photon levels. However, the technologies to generate, manipulate, and detect these states of light are inadequate for the emerging applications. The single photonics and quantum information project staff develops new light sources, detectors, and measurement techniques to address these needs. The group uses the BMF to fabricate their detectors and waveguides.

Waveguide coupled superconducting nanowire single photon detector
Optical microscope and SEM images of a waveguide coupled superconducting nanowire single photon detector on a silicon waveguide.

Quantum Nanophotonics Group

The Quantum Nanophotonics Group develops and provides advanced measurement technology, methodology, and test structures to support the efficient manufacture and characterization of optoelectronic components. The Group also develops new photonic devices in support of NIST and other government programs. Two major focus areas are compound semiconductor nanotechnology and quantum information. The group uses the BMF to fabricate their semiconductor devices and waveguides.

Micro-fabricated magnetic structures
Shape-changing magnetic nanoprobe can measure local pH deep within tissues and in real time, using MRI to ‘read’ the probe output.

Magnetic Imaging Group

The Magnetic Imaging Group develops calibration methods, standards, and contrast agents for magnetic imaging technologies as needed by the U.S. healthcare industry and the U.S. government to advance and validate quantitative biomagnetic imaging methods. The group has used the BMF to fabricate their magnetic devices and their RF contrast agents.

Superconducting coplanar waveguide
A coplanar superconducting waveguide, over one meter in length on a one-square-centimeter chip, with periodic variations in width (detail). These loadings alter the dispersion of current propagating in the waveguide.

Quantum Processing Group

The Quantum Processing Group develops new technologies for processing information using superconducting circuits. In addition, they develop advanced fabrication techniques are to enable true scaling of both superconducting quantum computers and ion-trap based systems. Examples of devices include parametric amplifiers and frequency combs based on superconductors with high kinetic inductance and new geometries for superconducting quantum binary devices as fundamental building blocks for quantum computing. The group uses the BMF to fabricate devices.

NIST artificial synapse
Micrograph of electrical probing of NIST’s artificial synapse designed for neuromorphic computing. The synapse is a superconducting device, made of niobium electrodes and a manganese-silicon matrix, which mimics the operation of a switch between two brain cells. The chip is 1 square centimeter in size. One artificial synapse is located at the center of each X.

Spin Electronics Group

Even if the power needs for all U.S. data centers can be met, the inherent constraints of semiconductor electronics will still impose scaling and clock-rate limits on future processing capacity at a time when the digital information is increasing exponentially. Electron-spin torque may be used to switch future, nonvolatile, magnetic memory elements. Compared to switching memory bits with magnetic fields, this method would offer higher speed, greater reliability, lower power, and would be scalable to smaller device dimensions. The Spin Electronics Group investigates theoretical and experimental aspects of spin transport and the transfer of spin angular momentum to magnetic structures. The Spin Electronics Group uses the BMF to fabricate their devices.

Dual Microwave Antenna
Dual microwave antenna device used to generate and measure the spinwave (magnon) velocity and propagation distance in magnetic nanowires.

Nanoscale Spin Dynamics Group

The Nanoscale Spin Dynamics Group develops new measurement techniques to characterize the high frequency properties and performance of nanomagnetic structures and devices. Hard-disk drives in personal computers and data centers push the limits of technology, with current data bit densities of 100 billion per square centimeter. The controlled switching of magnetization in write heads, read heads, recording media, and innovative memory elements at frequencies in the hundreds of megahertz to hundreds of gigahertz will be the foundation for future magnetic data storage systems and advanced microwave integrated circuits. These technologies will depend on newly discovered properties and limitations of magnetic materials and devices that appear only at the nanoscale. The Nanoscale Spin Dynamics Group uses the BMF to fabricate their devices.

X-ray camera
X-ray camera for with 160 pixel detectors with SQUID MUX readout. TES sensors can be tuned to provide superior spectroscopic resolution at high efficiency for synchrotron radiation and materials analysis.

Quantum Sensors Group

The Quantum Sensors Group, part of NIST’s Physical Measurement Laboratory, and the Quantum Electromagnetics Division, advances the detection of photons and particles in a variety of application areas using superconducting sensors and readout electronics. Major group activities include: superconducting x-ray and gamma-ray spectrometers for applications that include materials analysis and nuclear materials accounting, superconducting microbolometers for applications that include concealed weapons detection and understanding the early universe, advanced cryogenics to aid the dissemination of cryogenic sensors, the determination of x-ray fundamental parameters to facilitate materials analysis by x-ray techniques, and support of U.S. industries that develop or use advanced cryogenics and cryogenic sensors. The Quantum Sensors Group uses the BMF to fabricate their devices.

Images shows the electrodes of an ion trap spanning multiple trap zones.  Electrodes are labelled: load zone, rf electrode and experiment zone
A multi-zone rf Paul trap showing various trap zones for loading, experiments and ion transport, including an X-junction that allows quantum gates between arbitrary sets of ions to be performed in a single computation.

Ion Storage Group

The Ion Storage Group conducts experiments on atomic ions that are confined in electromagnetic traps and laser-cooled, in some cases, to the ground state of motion. Experiments employ RF (Paul) traps and Penning traps. In one area of research the groups uses trapped ions to control quantum-mechanical systems. This research can potentially revolutionize technologies including computing, simulation, secure communication and precision metrology. A second area of research focuses on the use of trapped ions for precision measurements. In particular, they are interested in optical frequency metrology, which provides the basis for diverse applications from optical clocks to tests of fundamental physics and relativistic geodesy. The Ion Storage group uses the BMF to fabricate ion traps.

Created March 23, 2018, Updated November 14, 2023