New Facility Enhances Research Opportunities Across Campus

Knowing that the smallest things can sometimes cause the biggest problems, UT has created a facility to remedy that dilemma for researchers.

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The Karl Suss MA6 optical lithography system at the MPRF, shown under yellow lighting that makes it suitable for lithographic processes.

The newly established Micro-Processing Research Facility (MPRF) will allow researchers to conduct research and development requiring thin film processing technology at the micron level without having to leave the campus.

While the facility itself is part of the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials (JIAM) and is housed in JIAM’s location just across the river from the main campus, the broadened research capabilities it provides expand the depth and breadth of what can be studied at UT, according to facility director Eric Lukosi.

Eric Lukosi

Eric Lukosi

“Any unit that needs micron-scale thin film processing services will benefit from the creation of the MPRF,” said Lukosi, an assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering. “The need for thin film processing is multidisciplinary, from electronics and sensor development to materials science and medical studies such as lab-on-a-chip development. These are the kinds of studies that can be carried out at the MPRF.”

Thin film processing capabilities include offerings in lithography and ion etching, as well the ability to take gas vapor and transfer it to a solid film through a process called plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition. The recent addition of optical profilometry will also allow researchers to investigate the quality of such films.

Currently, researchers across campus and in the area can do many of these things only at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS). Lukosi said the new UT facility is not in competition with ORNL, but is a way to alleviate some of the backlog that can develop because of the high demand to use the facility there.

“It’s important for people to know that we are an option, but that we’re not trying to be a rival with them or take away from what they do,” said Lukosi. “CNMS has a really high demand on it, so that’s something we can help alleviate.”

“Another big thing that can frustrate people at times is that when you apply for external funding opportunities proof-of-concept results are often required, which is not well facilitated through the proposal-based system at CNMS. That’s another way we can help.”

The facility is what is known within the scientific community as a recharge center.

That means it provides services for a fee—which is, in turn, used to keep the facility running at a break-even point.

The potential for use across departments and colleges at UT is a key advantage, one that helps elevate the university closer to its goal of becoming a Top 25 public research university.

“It’s a challenging scenario, but one we have to tackle,” said Lukosi. “If you look at other institutions that we aspire to be like, such as Penn State University or the University of California at Berkeley, they all have facilities like this.

“It’s taken a while to see this dream realized, but facilities like this at least give us the opportunity to be on the same playing field.”

CONTACT:

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)