Grant allows The Biodesign Institute To Fabricate Nanoscale Structures

Grant allows The Biodesign Institute To Fabricate Nanoscale Structures

August 24, 2004

August 23, 2004

Kimberly Ovitt, Director of Communication & Institutional Advancement
(480)727-8688 |
August 24, 2004

A grant from the National Science Foundation has enabled the Biodesign Institute at ASU to purchase an instrument allowing researchers to construct nanoscale prototypes of objects that could be used in a wide range of biotech applications. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or about 1,000 times smaller than a human hair.

The equipment, called a Focused Ion Beam System, is valued at $1.3 million, a cost that typically would put it out of reach for many research or technology start-up organizations. Currently, the major purchasers are large semiconductor companies. The NSF grant enables ASU to put this important tool in the hands of scientists wishing to design nanoscale structures as part of more exploratory research in a wider range of applications.

For example, the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics in the Biodesign Institute will use it to design probes for mapping electrical and chemical activity on surface cells. The Institute’s Center fro Applied NanoBioscience will use it to design small devices for separating biological molecules from blood.

The system uses highly focused ion beams to sculpt structures at a size only visible through an electron microscope. The material being sculpted can be metal, silicon or virtually any other solid. A three dimensional shape is programmed into the system’s computer, then ion beams act as microscopic hammers, striking the surface of the material and sculpting it into the desired shape.

A condition of the grant is that ASU make the equipment available at an hourly rate to other organizations, including start-up technology companies as well as other researchers. The fees must be structured so they do not undercut private industry; this requirement is intended to provide smaller companies access to an important tool for innovation.

“This funding is a step ahead of many grant approaches because it acknowledges that nanoscale construction has implications across many scientific disciplines,” said George Poste, Director of the Biodesign Institute. “By putting this into ASU’s multidisciplinary scientific environment, many researchers benefit,” said Poste. He added that making the system accessible to small start-up companies outside ASU takes the concept even further, recognizing that innovation can be seeded in many places.

The grant was awarded to the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Single Molecule Biophysics in conjunction with the Center for Solid State Electronics Research within the Fulton School of Engineering and the Center for Solid State Science within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The equipment will also be used for work on the ASU/Army Flexible Display initiative overseen by the Biodesign Institute.

“With our specific model, we can actually watch as the structure is constructed,” said Stuart Lindsay, PhD, Director of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics. “It’s very fast, and allows unlimited possibilities for developing structures for use in many areas of science,” he said.

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Written by: Joe Caspermeyer