Voyaging beyond space using microfabrication


Aju Jugessur, the director of the University of Iowa Microfabrication Facility stands in front of the Raith Voyager on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Osama Khalid)

By Kayli Reese

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In the University of Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories, a giant metal box creates designs and images on a nanoscale.

The Raith Voyager, an electron beam lithographer — a nanoscale laser printer — gives the UI great opportunities to work in microelectronics, said Aju Jugessur, the director of the UI microfabrication facility.

Jugessur said the Raith Voyager makes images for a variety of uses that can be 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. Some of these uses, he said, include transmitters in cell phones, improvement in solar cells, and work in the biomedical field.

In the future, he said, this technology can be used to make chips allowing in-home blood tests done by individuals.

“The industry keeps pushing the size of things down to fit more features in [them],” Jugessur said.

UI student Andrew Textor said the Raith Voyager shoots a very small beam of electrons to create desired images. Then, printing the images can be done on the nanoscale.

UI graduate student Russell Ricker said the process of using the machine is fairly simple. After sketching out an image or drawing shapes, he said, the image is uploaded to the Raith Voyager and tested.

Once student training is completed, Ricker said, there is an hourly fee of $50 to work in the lab, he said.

The Raith Voyager is housed in a clean room in the lab, he said. This ensures the machine to be free of dust and other airborne particles that could potentially interfere with the creation of images.

Jugessur also said gloves and masks are to be worn when handling the tool, so as not to contaminate it.

The Raith Voyager is a German machine first made three years ago, Jugessur said. While there are other machines performing similar functions, only three Raith Voyagers exist in the United States, he said.

When the lab was damaged in the 2008 flood, he said, a similar tool to the Raith Voyager was unable to function. As the building was renovated and technology changed, he said, the perfect opportunity came about for the UI to purchase the $2 million machine. Also, Jugessur noted, there was a demand for the tool for research.

Ricker said the microfabrication facility has expanded greatly since Jugessur became director, and a multitude of tools in the facility are new and provide fantastic opportunities in furthering research. He said he finds being able to work in the labs and with the Raith Voyager extremely rewarding.

“[The Raith Voyager] is pushing the boundaries of what we understand about the very, very small,” he said.

Textor also said he is very grateful to be able to work with the Raith Voyager, as well as other machines that are worth several cars. The tool is the best one of its kind that can be purchased in the academic world, he said.

“Not many schools have access to a tool of this caliber,” he said

While the UI is one of the few institutions that have a Raith Voyager in the county, Jugessur expects this to change over time, as well as a general expansion of technology similar to the tool.

“Microfabrication is growing fast, so I expect other universities will use this in the future,” he said.

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