21st-century machine shop

21st-century machine shop McGill University

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McGill Reporter
November 13, 2003 - Volume 36 Number 05
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 36: 2003-2004 > November 13, 2003 > 21st-century machine shop

21st-century machine shop

Nanotechnology research, the science of miniaturizing through ultra-sophisticated machinery, now has a competitive headquarters at McGill.

Caption follows
Electrical and computer engineering professor Andrew Kirk and Peter Gr¸tter, professor of physics, in the new Tools for Nanoscience Facility
Owen Egan

The Faculty of Science and Faculty of Engineering have teamed up to create a nanotechnology hub, called the Tools for Nanoscience Facility, which consists of 8,000 square feet of lab space.

The 10 researchers from both faculties involved in the project are Mark Andrews, Christopher Barrett, Martin Grant, Peter Grütter, Hong Guo, Musa Kamal, Andrew Kirk, Bruce Lennox, David Plant and Mark Sutton

With the new labs, based at the Rutherford Physics Building and Wong Engineering Building, McGill has become the most advanced, public or private, nanotechnology research centre in Canada, and were built for $9 million.

"The Tools for Nanoscience Facility is another wonderful example of public/private partnerships that enable Quebec's and Canada's research universities to compete internationally," says McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum.

The labs include three closely linked components. The first is a clean room with a micromachining facility, which boasts the latest technology. "This facility will be the machine shop for the 21st century," explains Professor of physics Peter Grütter.

A second component will be an atomic manipulation facility, unique in the world. This facility will let researchers construct devices atom by atom, thus developing the science and technology required for future electronic and biochemical systems.

The third component is a Beowulf supercomputer dedicated to the modelling of nanomaterials. McGill's Beowulf is currently Canada's most powerful computer, according to www.top500.org. The cluster contains 700 processors, runs at 1.3 Tflops (a trillion floating-point operations per second) fills an entire room and consumes enough power to electrify 10 family homes.

"Our Beowulf contains more communications bandwidth than the entire McGill and McGill University Health Centre internet network," says Grütter. "It's massive."

Another unique aspect of the Tools for Nanoscience Facility is how the multidisciplinary space will enable collaboration between researchers in physics, chemistry, engineering and life sciences as never before.

"Cross-fertilization is essential to truly capitalize on the promise of nanoscience," says Andrew Kirk, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. "Our centralized facility will become the watering hole of McGill's scientific community."

Among the research projects enabled by the Tools for Nanoscience Facility will be the development of new cantilever-based chemical sensors for the detection of single molecules (or DNA testing), the investigation of atomic-scale conductance (an essential field as silicon-integrated circuits continue to shrink in size), the assembly of nanophotonic devices for future optical communications networks, micromachined electronic components for the next generation of wireless devices and integrated miniaturized biomedical diagnostic systems.

"The grouping of technologies at the Tools for Nanoscience Facility can easily compete with private industry labs and are more cost-effective," stresses Kirk. "These facilities will help us recruit and retain technical staff in a competitive market."

Munroe-Blum is very excited that the Tools for Nanoscience Facility has become a reality. "McGill is a true pioneer university in nanoscience," she says. "As we compete for the best minds, McGill's Tools for Nanoscience Facility will be a magnet for drawing the best and the brightest scientists, scholars, graduates and postdoctoral students from around the world."

The investment in nanoscience was made possible thanks to many partners: the Canada Foundation for Innovation; DALSA; Semiconductor; EV Group; Extreme Networks; Génome Québec; IDL Inc.; JEOL; McGill University; Ministère du Développement économique et régional; NanoQuebec; NSERC; SOQUELEC; STMicroelectronics and Valorisation-Recherche Québec.

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