Nano Science and Technology Institute

In 2007, You Can Access DOE Facilities, Staff for Your Next Nano Discovery - Here’s How

Jim Bustillo, assistant director of Molecular Foundry tells contributing editor Vance McCarthy how nano researchers can get work with DOE’s labs, and what projects are most interesting.

(Read Part 1 of Bustillo’s interview here)

Part I Overview: The Molecular Foundry is one of five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs). Located in just north of Silicon Valley at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab adjacent to the University of California - Berkeley, the Molecular Foundry will open its doors to university and private sector research partners, offering: (a) clean room facilities, (b) high-powered computing for R&D, modeling and simulations, (c) a wide array of highly-sensitive (and highly expensive) equipment and (d) top-notch nanoscience researchers in composite materials, biology, chemistry, fabrication and other sectors.

Molecular Foundry Cleanroom
Clean Room at The Molecular Foundry, Courtesy of Jim Bustillo, Molecular Foundry

What Makes a Good Nano Research Collaborative Project

Q: What makes a good submission or proposal to work with the Foundry?
Bustillo: Well, as I said our goal is the science and in publishing, so getting a glimpse of what others haven’t seen is a big motivator for us. Good quality science from recognized principal investigators having a demonstrated track record certainly bodes well for proposal acceptance. We do, however, also very much encourage newly established researchers to submit their ideas.

Q: Can you describe in a little more detail the types of project proposals you are most interested in receiving?
Bustillo: Users are invited to submit proposals which detail the science that is to be done at the Foundry as well as what is intended to be done at their home institution. Part of what is evaluated during the review is how do the Foundry’s capabilities leverage the intended research. The proposals request access to the state-of-the-art instruments and techniques, and to the highly skilled staff. Our focus here is on the multidisciplinary development and understanding of both “soft” (biological and polymeric) and “hard” (inorganic and microfabricated) nanostructured building blocks and the integration of those building blocks into complex functional assemblies. We also offer front-end support for theory and modeling. Our external review panel may approve a project dealing with nanofabrication and manufacturing issues, so long as it represents a ‘pushing of the envelope’ for the science.

Q: Can you help with early stage research as well as late stage R&D or even productization?
Bustillo: We have both [types] come to us, and many in-between. We are working with large companies like Intel, Dupont, Chiron, and we are also working with start-up companies – developing novel solar energy materials, for example. In this case, we’re looking at novel organic materials that can be impregnated with inorganic colloidally-synthesized materials that might result in photoreceptive plastics.

Q: You spoke earlier about ‘connecting the dots’ across different nanoscience areas. Is that what makes a good project?
Bustillo Yes. Leveraging the interdisciplinary nature of our Center to address a complex nanoscience problem is what our scientists really get excited about.

Q: Can you give an example of that?
Bustillo: Sure, so let’s look at nanocomposites. While inorganic chemists make materials in beakers with colloidal chemistry, organic chemistry can bring new ways to synthesize materials through self-assembly of molecules, or even create new materials with new functions. Another example, imagine new packaging for semiconductors or bio-coating quantum dots to make “smart materials” that would target certain pathogens. We have worked on these types of problems with partners.

Sample Projects

An up-to-date list of all approved research projects at the Molecular Foundry can be found at While there are 80 such projects under way just now, Bustillo estimates the Foundry may have 100-150 such nanoscience collaborations underway by the end of 2007.

Q: Can you give examples of how Silicon Valley companies or universities are working with the Foundry?
Bustillo: Certainly, and there are some very good fits. We are not even fully staffed yet, and we already have interest from Novartis [a leading biotech firm in the Bay Area], Intel, and several leading universities, including Stanford and UCSF. And, Agilent is very interested in working with us; in fact, they donated a very expensive piece of equipment dedicated to the chemical vapor deposition and synthesis of nanowire materials. So, yes, we are finding great uptake among semiconductor and biotech researchers.

Q: Can you share another example of multi-disciplined nano research?
Bustillo: Yes. A large semi company wanted to do research in developing new composites for packaging. The idea is that they needed new materials that would withstand higher temperatures during the lifetime of their product and yet maintain certain electrical and mechanical properties. So, they talked with our organic polymer scientists to figure our ways they could put novel materials in their polymers. Once they had brainstormed a few approaches, they talked to our imaging and manipulation facility to understand how we might bring our electronic microscopy and materials characterization facility to bear on analysis of these novel materials. Frankly, our dream projects result in a roundtable approach where we can get frank discussions among a number of different scientists.

As another example, an interested international research team was interested in a bio-sensor, with the type of bio-sensor being a cantilevered sensor where the tip would be functionalized to detect certain materials on a surface. This group had some expertise in microfacbrication, but they needed our expertise to help them with the design and synthesis of bioconjugaed nanoscale cantilivers. They proposed a project, largely involving training, which is currently out for review.

Getting Involved, Proposing a Project

Q: How does someone submit a proposal? Does each facility has its own review team?
Bustillo: Yes, each facility within our Center has its own external review team consisting of experts in the respective fields. We have over 50 reviewers across the country signed up to support our scientific review process. The only aspect of the project’s review that is done internally is a feasibility assessment to see if it can be done and is a good match for resources here. We encourage new science, but we also encourage people to submit projects that can be completed. So, sometimes, ideas that are initially submitted might be broken down into manageable bits and pieces of a larger research effort.

Those interested in submitting a proposal can easily do so on-line at: - just click on the Submit key.

Q: Would you describe what types of personnel resources and expertise you offer at the Foundry?
Bustillo: Today, we have 46 staff permanent staff, of which 38 are scientific staff. Each of the six facilities has a director, lead scientist and staff scientists. All full-time research staff spends half their time doing their own research, exploring various aspects of nanotechnology, and is in part what brings people here. The other half of their time is devoted to working on user projects.

Q: How do you handle the resultant IP?
Bustillo: DOE is very reasonable on this point. Basically, what belongs to the user remains with the user, what belongs to the Foundry remains with the Foundry and what is developed together as a result of the collaboration is considered a joint invention – one which can be jointly owned or to which one party can elect to retain title solely should the other party decline. We have standard User Agreements that cover this for all accepted projects, and again there can be some flexibility which can be addressed on a case-by-case basis with our Sponsored Projects Office. For work that is not proprietary, we will want to publish or co-publish the work and encourage that whenever possible as that is certainly a goal.

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