NanoFabrication Kingston adds new equipment, hopes to attract wider range of users
A short drive north of campus, Queen’s Innovation Park houses facilities for research and development. On Jan. 19, in a media-focused tour, they revealed a revamp and rebrand for their nano-technology lab.
The lab originally dates back to 2015, when Innovation Park partnered with CMC Microsystems. The facility provides a space for students to access the necessary equipment to create the tiniest tech around.
“What we want to emphasize with the rebrand is that we’re not just a lab, we do research, we are developing and discovering new things,” Associate Professor Rob Knobel explained during the tour.
“But we are also here to help the community to make and characterize new devices.”
Standing in front of the roughly $8-million lab, Knobel explained that the facility has many functions. “Technologies like computer chips, lasers and airbag sensors all rely on fabrication and characterization in labs like this,” he said.
A wide variety of devices, from smartphones to cameras, use technology developed in nano-fabrication labs similar to the one here in Kingston, he added.
“This is a resource to Kingston and Eastern Ontario, it’s the only facility like this for a couple hundred kilometres that’s open to anyone,” Knobel said. “There’s expertise here, the people you see around you can help people get up to speed and realize their innovations and devices.”
One of those people is Graham Gibson, a CMC employee and the operations manager at NanoFabrication Kingston. Gibson oversees daily operations in the facility, but is also there to train, oversee and coordinate usage of the lab.
“With our new deposition tool, you can deposit less than a nano-meter of material on a surface,” Gibson said. “To the point where there will be atoms of metal that aren’t completely joined together yet, creating almost a single layer. From there you can make it as thick as 50 micro-meters.”
To put those measurements in perspective, Gibson explained that a single hair is about 100 micro-meters thick.
All three new pieces of equipment, including the deposition tool, were installed this fall, as the lab approached its rebranding. The new equipment was purchased with a $1-million grant, given to Queen’s for researchers working on devices that’ll help with medical diagnostics.
Knobel has worked closely with CMC and Queen’s for decades, explaining that CMC grew out of the electrical engineering department at Queen’s in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“What CMC did at the time was put together a consortium of university researchers from across Canada. It has grown and now CMC is the premier not-for-profit corporation that works between government, university researchers and corporations to further micro research,” he said.
The lab is primarily used by graduate students, however both Knobel and Gibson expressed their hope that the facility would be used by a wider range of individuals and start-up companies in the future.
“CMC’s job is to help ideas be successful, to encourage spin-offs and help companies create jobs and prosperity for Canada,” Knobel said.