RMIT opens $30 million MicroNano Research Facility

Monday, 01 September, 2014

RMIT University has opened its new MicroNano Research Facility (MNRF) - a $30 million, 1200 m2 building that will drive cutting-edge advances in micro- and nanotechnologies, supporting projects that span across the traditional disciplines of physics, chemistry, engineering, biology and medicine.

Speaking at the launch of the facility, Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Margaret Gardner AO said the facility aims to bring together “disparate disciplines to enable internationally leading research activity”.

“RMIT has long been a pioneer in this field, opening Australia’s first academic cleanrooms at the Microelectronics and Materials Technology Centre in 1983,” Professor Gardner said.

“Over three decades later, this investment in the world-class MNRF will enable RMIT’s leading researchers to continue to break new ground and transform the future.”

The facility will be home to the world’s first rapid 3D nanoscale printer, capable of producing thousands of structures - each a fraction of the width of a human hair - in seconds. It also offers more than 50 cutting-edge tools, including focused ion beam lithography with helium, neon and gallium ion beams to enable imaging and machining objects to 0.5 nm resolution - about 5 to 10 atoms.

Researchers will have access to nine state-of the-art laboratories, including:

  • gas sensors laboratory
  • metrology laboratory
  • novel fabrication laboratory
  • PC2 mammalian cell laboratory
  • photolithography laboratory
  • physical vapour deposition laboratory
  • polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and nanoparticle laboratory
  • wet etch laboratory
  • support laboratory

According to MNRF Director Professor James Friend, “Having access to purpose-designed laboratories and leading-edge equipment opens tremendous opportunities for RMIT and for those we collaborate with, enabling us to advance the development of truly smart technology solutions to some of our most complex problems.”

Professor Friend added that 10 research teams will work at the new facility on a broad range of projects, including:

  • building miniaturised motors - or microactuators - to retrieve blood clots from deep within the brain, enabling minimally invasive neurological intervention in people affected by strokes or aneurysms;
  • improving drug delivery via the lungs through new techniques that can atomise large biomolecules - including drugs, DNA, antibodies and even cells - into tiny droplets to avoid the damage of conventional nebulisation;
  • developing innovative energy harvesting techniques that change the way batteries are recharged, using novel materials that can draw on the energy generated simply by people walking around;
  • inventing ways to use water to remove toxins from fabric dyes, with new nanotechnologies that can facilitate the breaking down of those dyes with nanostructured catalysts.

The facility will be a key enabler of RMIT’s flagship Health Innovations Research Institute and Platform Technologies Research Institute. It will also be affiliated with the university’s MicroNano Teaching Facility (MNTF), said to be the first of its kind in Australia, which will enable undergraduate and postgraduate engineering student trainees to study cleanroom operations and microfabrication.

Professor Friend said the MNRF is “all about ensuring researchers have the freedom to imagine and safely realise the impossible at tiny scales and beyond”.

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