A foundation to build on
The University of Notre Dame Center for Nano Science and Technology was formally established in 1999 under the leadership of electrical engineering professor Gerry Iafrate. The reputation of Notre Dame in those years was built on the pioneering invention of quantum-dot cellular automata (QCA) by electrical engineering professors Craig Lent and Wolfgang Porod. QCA is a device/circuit approach for minimizing energy in computing. Experimental demonstrations by electrical engineering professors Gary Bernstein and Greg Snider proved the concept, and in the early years of NDnano the search for molecular and magnetic embodiments of QCA was initiated. The center started with faculty from the departments of chemistry and biochemistry, computer science and engineering, electrical engineering, and physics. On the departure of Professor Iafrate to NC State in 2001, Professor Wolfgang Porod became the director of NDnano.
Center growth spikes in 2008
A first major win for the center came in March of 2008 when the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), under a program called the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, selected Notre Dame to lead a multi-university team with the center that became known as the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery (MIND). This was approximately $20 million in funding over five years. MIND, led by electrical engineering professor Alan Seabaugh, was highlighted by early demonstrations of III-V tunnel field-effect transistors and magnetic QCAs for applications in low-power computing.
In April of 2008, Notre Dame Research (NDR), under the direction of Vice President for Research Robert Bernhard, made significant investments to improve the capabilities of the newly created ND Integrated Imaging Facility (NDIIF). The NDIIF is a core research facility of the university, maintaining state-of-the-art tools for optical microscopy, scanning electron and transmission electron microscopy, and a focused ion beam tool for specimen preparation. In March 2010, the Notre Dame Nanofabrication Facility (NDNF) moved from Fitzpatrick Hall into the newly constructed Stinson-Remick Hall of Engineering, significantly expanding space and capabilities. The NDNF is a 9000 ft2 cleanroom space featuring a wide variety of fabrication, processing, and characterization equipment and instrumentation.
A second signature award for NDnano came in 2013 when the SRC/DARPA Semiconductor Technology Advanced Research Network (STARnet) chose the Center for Low Energy Systems Technology (LEAST), led by Alan Seabaugh, to explore selected technologies to lower power in computing systems, including steep subthreshold swing tunnel transistors, ferroelectric negative capacitance transistors, ionic memory, selectors, and two-dimensional materials. The project was funded at a level of approximately $31 million over five years. In 2016, Electrical Engineering Professor Suman Datta launched a center entitled Extremely Energy Efficient Collective Electronics (EXCEL) and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and SRC to explore devices based on collective phenomena and phase transitions. This three-year, $4.4 million center, was tasked to develop computing approaches based on the use of these devices in dynamical systems to execute optimization, learning, and inference tasks. In 2018 Professor Datta and NDnano faculty were again successful in winning a major center sponsored by SRC and DARPA, entitled Applications and Systems Driven Center for Energy-Efficient Integrated Nanotechnologies (ASCENT). Part of the Joint University Microelectronics Program (JUMP), the center’s aim is to develop technologies which enable performance gains measured at the systems level, with innovation from hardware to software. ASCENT is one of the largest ever center awards at ND, with support of $38 million over five years.
As we look to the future, NDnano endeavors to expand on the successes of winning large centers in electronics as well as in emerging areas of strength: quantum computing and networks, emerging quantum (condensed matter) phenomena, catalysis, polymer membrane technology for water purification, and nanoparticle-based drug delivery. To facilitate these successes, NDnano provides opportunities for cross-disciplinary networking, promotes faculty discussions and forums to develop research vision, stimulates collaboration through undergraduate fellowships and seed grants, and supports faculty workshops in areas of interest.