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Utilizing the Skills of Expert Researchers to Broadly Transfer Advanced Nanotechnology

Institute for Nanoscience & Nanotechnology, Nanotechnology Foundry
(In the 2007 academic year, selected for the Nanotechnology Network Program of the Project to Create Innovation Shared among Advanced Research Facilities)

A total of 13 centers (26 institutions) from throughout Japan have been selected for the 2nd Period of the Nanotechnology Network Program. The Waseda University "Project to Support Evaluation of Custom Nano-Formation & Devices" has achieved project selection as an independent institution.

Nanotechnology is technology for the complete control of materials in the extremely microscopic field of nanometers (1 nanometer = 10-9 meters). Many unknown areas still exist in this field of manipulating materials on a scale that is close to an atomic level. There are high expectations for the acceleration of industrial innovation through the realization of miniaturization and high-level integration on a nano-scale for a variety of products. These expectations also extend to the utilization of newly discovered properties.

Nanotechnology is the subject of international competition in today's world. The construction of a strategic R&D network on a national level is essential for the success and development of work in this field. It is no simple task to assemble and effectively utilize the special equipment which is needed in nanotechnology. Therefore, it is necessary for universities and private research institutions to promote R&D by broadly providing the advanced research facilities and skills that they possess. When examining the matter further, nanotechnology should not be considered as a word that refers to only a single research field; rather, it should be interpreted as a new paradigm (system or model) born from the intersection of various existing research fields. In such a case, there is need for the functions of a leading support center that will transfer advanced nanotechnology knowledge and know-how to researchers working in a variety of fields, and that will develop professionals who possess expert know-how.

Against the backdrop of these conditions, the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) began the Nanotechnology Network Program (hereafter referred to as the "Nano-Net Program") from 2002 as a part of the Project for Comprehensive Support of Nanotechnology. In the 1st Period (2002 to 2006) of the program, a total of 13 research institutions were selected from throughout Japan as support centers possessing advanced research facilities. Selections were made for the 4 separate themes of "support for ultra-high pressure electron microscopes," "support for analysis of radiant light," "support for the comprehensive synthesis and analysis of atoms and materials," and "support for ultra-fine processing and formation." Among these themes, Waseda University was selected for the field of "support for ultra-fine processing and formation" and has advanced the "Nanotechnology Foundry(*1): Project to Support Evaluation of Custom Nano-Formation & Devices." In the 2nd Period (schedule for 2007 to 2011) of the MEXT Program, the "Project to Support Evaluation of Custom Nano-Formation & Devices" will be advanced through the addition of measures for device evaluation within the program.

Through this series of projects, how are support activities being conducted and what kinds of results have been produced? What are the unique characteristics of Waseda University that differ from other research centers? We discussed these questions with Mr. Takayuki Honma, Professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering and Research Representative for the program.

*1: The word "foundry" refers to the contracting of manufacturing based upon the orders and design plans of customers.

Developing Support for Custom-Made Nanotechnology

"Almost all other centers focus on the shared provision of research facilities and equipment. However, our approach is completely different. In regards to individuals who are working to realize new manufacturing in advanced nanotechnology, we provide support for the solution of problems which have become bottlenecks. In other words, our main objective is to provide solutions. Our expert researchers provide technical consultation for the problems faced by each of our clients. We pursue solutions through a combination of the various equipment and know-how possessed by Waseda University. The goal of our efforts is represented by the word 'custom', which is included in the name of our 'Project to Support Evaluation of Custom Nano-Formation & Devices'." (Professor Honma)

Dedicated staff members gather around Professor Honma (front right), Research Representative for the project. The nanotechnology support project is led by expert researchers who possess experience in onsite R&D at private corporations.

In the fields of semiconductors and MEMS (micro electro mechanical systems), foundry projects refer to the business of providing manufacturing solutions to clients who are capable of producing drawings but lack the equipment or know-how to perform manufacturing. These same types of cases are targeted by the Waseda University "Project to Support Evaluation of Custom Nano-Formation & Devices." The extremely unique characteristic of the Waseda University "Project to Support Evaluation of Custom Nano-Formation & Devices" is how the project provides support for custom-made technology in the field of nanotechnology manufacturing. Within this innovative project, dedicated teams are formed by expert researchers who have gained extensive experience at the R&D divisions of private corporations, and the teams work to provide technical consultation and the coordination of solutions.

"In regards to the current project, I believed in the absolute necessity of researchers who have accumulated know-how at private R&D facilities. Even if high-level facilities are shared, it will be meaningless unless the know-how exists to fully utilize such facilities. Even in the case of private corporations, universities, and research institutions, there are not many experts who are able to exercise complete control over nano-technology across a wide range of fields. Even if researchers take a trial-and-error approach to nano-technology and then encounter a problem, they do not understand even the direction to take towards methods for solving such problems. There are even cases in which the problem itself is not clearly understood. In regards to these types of client problems, we listen attentively to an explanation of the situation and combine our know-how in order to determine the direction to take for a solution. The only professionals capable of taking such action are individuals who have acquired extensive experience in the R&D divisions of manufacturing companies, which are the true site of manufacturing." (Professor Honma)

Currently, 8 dedicated staff members have assumed the position of Visiting Instructor and are involved in the nanotechnology support project. All of the members come from first-class manufacturers such as Hitachi and NEC. Furthermore, all of the members possesses Doctoral Degrees and have strong research ability. The members also perform duties such as presenting their personal research results at academic conferences held overseas.

Systematizing the masterful skill of manufacturing

Gold grating manufactured using precision coating methods. Shape was created in the resin using the electron beam exposure method, and the gold plating of the grating was formed by embedding gold in the concave portions of the resin.

The "Project to Support Evaluation of Custom Nano-Formation & Devices" is based upon the following three support projects: 1) support for nano-level precision coating technology, 2) nano/micro-processing technology, and 3) formation of structures for nano/micro-device elements (support for evaluation of special characteristics). Each of the fields is a specialty of Waseda University, and the 3 fields compose a wide range of support for the needs of manufacturing R&D.

"In the world of nanotechnology, there are many aspects which are first seen after starting manufacturing. It is impossible to assess the true behavior even when performing a variety of calculations based on simple conditions in desktop simulations. What will occur on a nano-scale when a variety of materials are intricately combined and take form in a variety of shapes? In order to determine how to perform manufacturing which moves smoothly on a nano-scale, it is necessary to conduct trial-and-error experiments and perform verification of actual results." (Professor Honma)

A large portion of manufacturing is supported by the skill of craftsmen passed down from long ago. In the same way, or perhaps even more, nanotechnology is a field which requires the skill of craftsmen. Consider the example of coating technology. It is difficult to create a three-dimensional shape on the nano-scale through the use of dry processes such as evaporation or spattering. Therefore, it is necessary to search for methods of implementing uniform coating through wet processes. When using semiconductor devices as an example, the field no longer stops at two-dimensional, but is expanding into an even more complicated world involving three-dimensional mounting on the nano-scale. A variety of experiments will be repeated in clean rooms to determine what kind of three-dimensional casting should be performed in order to retain electric connections in a vertical direction. During such experiments, great power is possessed by know-how acquired through theory and experience.

Optical biosensor. Pattern formation is performed using the electron beam exposure method and the silver film is formed by concentric processing. By placing target items on top of the sensor, emitting light, and observing the spectrum of scatter light which occurs, a high-level detection and analysis is performed for the structure of the target items.

"When private corporations act independently, priority is placed on practical application. In such cases, systemization and theorization is neglected. However, while providing support, universities also simultaneously fulfill the role of systemization and theorization, and accumulation of shared knowledge is possible. This is one important objective of our project." (Professor Honma)

In terms of encouraging use by many corporations, there is great significance in the center's location on the Waseda Campus of Shinjuku Ward. Experimental work is frequently held, such as joint meetings including not only clients but also suppliers (such as equipment manufacturers and material manufacturers) for the purpose of verifying manufacturing and finishing processes.

"On the inside of the Yamanote Line, this is basically the only place with a clean room that satisfies the high standards known as "Class 100." The existence of a foundry in the middle of the city has great meaning for the support of rapid developments in nano-technology." (Professor Honma)

Through close cooperation of public support and autonomous projects

Nano-gap electrodes used to measure electrical properties. Gold electrodes used to measure the electrical properties of atoms are formed using technology such as electron beam exposure, vacuum deposition, and chemical mechanical polishing. The gap of the electrodes is a mere 7.9 nm.

"Device evaluation" was added as a new pillar of the project during the program's 2nd Period, which began from the 2007 academic year. This addition reflects the opinion that support for manufacturing must not be the end of the project; instead, the project must encompass thorough evaluation of capabilities while also leading to systemization and the creation of theory. Although the formation of device element structures had been part of the project since the 1st Period, the new objective of "characteristic evaluation" was clearly espoused by the addition.

"Although evaluation may sound simple, it is actually quite difficult to perform. For example, when measuring electrical properties, a number of questions arise such as 'What kind of terminal should be used?' and 'Where and how should the terminal be attached on the nano-scale?' In accordance with client requests, we offer support that includes the formation of element structures needed for evaluation. One example of this is the formation of new microscopic terminals used during measurement." (Professor Honma)

Furthermore, during the 1st Period, the project was limited to the goal of "public support." Therefore, a number of requirements were imposed on the project such as the need to disclose all support activities and the inability to engage in commercialization. However, beginning from the 2nd Period, it became possible to expand activities as "autonomous projects" outside of the framework of the project. Through this channel, it became possible to provide corporations seriously considering commercialization with the option of joint research or consigned research through the conventional scheme of an industry-academia partnership.

The conversion to a manufacturing paradigm for nanotechnology has only just started. In addition to public support projects which will raise the level of technology throughout Japan, an authentic industry-academia partnership with corporations seeking to challenge the most advanced fields will be implemented to produce of successful cases. For the time being, it seems that the situation requires close cooperation between these two aspects.

Related Links

(Links)Waseda University Project to Support Evaluation of Custom Nano-Formation & Devices

Waseda University Institute for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

Waseda University Nanotechnology Forum

Nanotech Japan (MEXT Project to Create Innovation Shared among Advanced Research Facilities)