In April of 2017, the ASRC NanoFabrication Facility (NanoFab) hosted the third regional meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Nanofabrication Facility Managers (MANFM) Forum. The group consists of cleanroom directors, managers and staff from 16 universities and five government labs, spanning from New York to Washington and as far west as Pittsburgh. This particular region represents the highest concentration of cleanrooms in the country and is home to several top-tier research institutions.
MANFM was initiated in 2016 by leadership at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) Quattrone Nanofabrication Facility (QNF), as part of the National Science Foundation’s National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) endeavors to create a more cohesive nanofabrication community across the country. The two inaugural meetings were held at the UPenn QNF and will be rotating through various member sites going forward.
During the most recent MANFM Forum at the CUNY ASRC, the group discussed the unique safety challenges associated with operating and maintaining a cleanroom. Health and safety officers from regional sites shared their protocols and experiences, initiating a focused discussion on best practices that could be implemented across sites. The meeting also included scientists and engineers from Oxford Instruments, manufactures of nanofabrication equipment for etching and depositing thin-films. The forum provided a unique opportunity for cleanroom staff to give direct feedback to equipment manufactures on desired features and capabilities, that would enhance the user experience and enable new technologies.
Cleanroom user facilities are complex organizations with sophisticated equipment, specialized processes and highly diverse sets of users from a wide range of backgrounds and application spaces. Meeting the needs of users and their home institutional goals are often challenging. As such, the MANFM looks to create benefits for both the facilities and their current and future user bases. For the participating facilities, it allows staff from different institutions to compare notes on topics such as troubleshooting process and equipment issues, training methodologies, operational and safety protocols and budgeting.
Dr. Paul Sunal, Manager of the Specialty Electronic Materials and Sensors Cleanroom Research Facility at the US Army Research Laboratory explains, “To manage your own facility is almost like an island in itself. Rarely do you have a chance to get out and meet people in the same industry to see how they do things differently. When that happens, you see the pros and cons of how these facilities operate and different things they have to offer. That gives you an opportunity to contrast what you do and how everyone else does it.”
The meetings allow the facilities to better map capabilities across the regional and link collective knowledge bases, which can be presented to new companies and researchers moving into the Mid-Atlantic region. Collectively, the group has more leverage with supply vendors, which translates to lower consumable costs and thus reduced user fees at facilities. The group aims to identify additional ways to enhance the user experience and opportunities.
The MANFM Forum plans to spin off mini conferences with focused topics pertaining to challenges in nanofabrication. UPenn hosted the first of these, the Mid-Atlantic Electron Beam Lithography (MAEBL) workshop, in April 2017. Next year, the CUNY NanoFab will host the second annual MAEBL workshop, which aims to draw industry experts and academic researchers to the facility to discuss current challenges and practice applications of electron beam lithography technology.