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Gravitational wave

New Mason Nanofabrication Facility will help drive innovation in the commonwealth

The Nanofabrication Facility offers hands-on nanofabrication workforce training. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Office of University Branding
The Nanofabrication Facility offers hands-on nanofabrication workforce training. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Office of University Branding

Over the past decade, nanotechnology has taken the world by storm. From health care to electronics, it has radically transformed countless industries.

As a result, nanofabrication, the manufacturing of nanoscale structures, is more important than ever, and proper fabrication requires both sophisticated equipment and a skilled workforce. In response to the rising demand for nanofabrication services, George Mason University stands ready to conduct state-of-the-art research and to help train the next generation of innovators with the opening of the new Nanofabrication Facility (NFF) on its Science and Technology Campus. 

“The NFF is the only cleanroom facility and resource for partners in Northern Virginia and offers hands-on nanofabrication workforce training in groundbreaking research and emerging research applications that will accelerate growth of high-tech companies,” said Andre Marshall, vice president of research, innovation, and economic impact at Mason. 

Pushing the boundaries of modern computing technology requires both nanoscale miniaturization of components and new approaches. “Physics at the nanoscale is very different than that of our macroscopic world, leading to electronic and magnetic behaviors rooted in quantum physics,” said Gabriele Bell, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. 

“The future of the semiconductor industry relies on cultivating young talent that understands the operating principles of nanoscale devices and can fabricate them. This Mason Nanofabrication Facility (NFF) at the SciTech campus is a key asset for preparing young physicists to build the future semiconductor industry,” Belle further explained.

Mason engineering professor Ethan Ahn sees the new facility as a perfect opportunity to give students the chance to receive hands-on experience in a nanofabrication lab. Ahn is teaching Mason’s first-ever Nanoelectronics Fundamentals course during the Spring 2024 semester, where students will be asked to create electronic devices in the NFF Class 1000 cleanroom.

“Hands-on experience in this field is invaluable, especially because students can become familiarized with the equipment that they may encounter in their future careers,” said Ahn, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

In Spring 2025, the Department of Physics and Astronomy will offer a course on Semiconductor Material and Processing Technology (PHYS 310) in conjunction with the NFF. Tailored to undergraduate students who want to explore the making of microchips, students will be assigned an individual project where they will learn all the different steps of the technological processes necessary to make semiconductor devices. 

Mason also launched the Nano-IMAGINE program with the help of a $3.75 million grant from GO Virginia, a state-funded initiative administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Through Nano-IMAGINE, in addition to offering undergraduate and graduate courses, Mason plans to provide two workforce-readiness opportunities in 2024: Nanocamp and Nano Boot Camp.

Nanocamp will allow area high school students to take part in experiments designed by Mason researchers and industry experts that use the cutting-edge equipment found inside the NFF. Nano Boot Camp is designed for those who are searching for a new career path or who would like to gain entry-level skills in an in-demand field. Similar to Nanocamp, participants will learn and apply principles used to build micro and nano devices.

The Nano-IMAGINE courses and programs complement statewide efforts led by the newly established Virginia Alliance for Semiconductor Technology (VAST). VAST is a network of semiconductor, microelectronics, and nanotechnology industries and Virginia colleges and universities. As a member of this consortium, Mason aims to promote VAST by educating NFF boot camp members about opportunities offered by the alliance, such as certificate programs that can help advance their careers in nanofabrication, an essential part of the semiconductor field.

"By investing in top faculty, new programs and facilities, and partnerships, Mason is connecting learning and market advancement to drive innovation for all across the state," said Marshall. “We are leading regional collaborations across sectors to bring a better tomorrow.