Size matters in the field of micro/nano-fabrication – and an MIT-France collaboration is breaking new ground by creating and applying tiny focused ion beams made from nontraditional materials.
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"It’s a great example of how a small amount of initial funding can take you a very long way."

The Ionic Liquid Ion Sources (ILIS) for Micro/Nano-Fabrication project grew out of a chance meeting at a conference in Florida. When Paulo Lozano, Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, started talking with fellow attendee Jacques Gierak of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique’s Laboratoire de Photonique et de Nanostructures (LPN/CNRS) in France, they realized they could advance the field of nanomanufacturing if they worked together.

“Jacques’ team has expertise in manufacturing with ion beams at a very small level, but they were working with a single material,” explains Lozano. “My team has expertise in creating ion beams at very small scales using completely new materials—which could open up new applications. We are a perfect match!”

Together, Lozano and Gierak applied for and won an MIT-France Seed Fund to explore how the MIT team’s novel technology could be used in the LPN team’s applications. “The collaboration is extremely well balanced,” says Lozano. “We have complementary strengths, and this fits with MISTI’s goal of fostering collaborations that are robust on both sides. With the funding from MISTI, we were able to send students to France, we were able to bring the LPN collaborators to MIT where they could see the technology – basically, this funding enabled us to jumpstart a collaboration that has tremendous potential for growth. A number of students have become deeply involved and plan to continue in this field. It’s a great example of how a small amount of initial funding can take you a very long way.”

Traditionally, most focused ion beam (FIB) systems have used gallium ions—but the teams at MIT and in France have broken with this tradition. Lozano’s team is producing ion beams using other materials, such as room temperature molten salt, and the LPN team tests the performance of these new ion beams in various nanomanufacturing applications. The two teams work together to determine what other ions could be used and how the newly created beams could be applied. “This allows for far more flexibility in terms of the tasks and applications that can be performed with ion beams,” Lozano notes.

The ILIS project has already led to five journal articles, several master’s theses and a PhD thesis, additional funding and new collaborations with international partners in related fields, and new applications of the developing technology. “The trend of miniaturization will continue,” Lozano says, “and everything will keep getting smaller. How small can we go, and what are the limits? We haven’t hit a limit yet because we’ve been able to improve the tools, and as long as we keep improving the tools, we can keep miniaturizing. The potential for industry use is enormous.”

  • France
  • Seed Fund
  • Aero-Astro