ASU Nanotechnology Facility for startups


ASU nanotechnology facility provides springboard for startups

The new ASU Nanotechnology Facility is open to students, faculty and staff researchers, as well as government, and industrial partners, the ASU Nanotechnology Facility offers a comprehensive set of tools to develop new micro and nanoscale devices, such as integrated circuits, nanophotonic and solid state devices, micro-electromechanical systems, and microfluidic systems, among others. The NanoFabrication Facility also offers students and researchers some of the most advanced instruments for fabrication and characterization of materials at the micro and nanoscales.

ASU Nanotechnology Facility – NanoFab’s array of high-tech research and development tools help businesses navigate the nanotech world

ASU Nanotechnology Facility

ASU Nanotechnology Facility

Beyond financing, there is the research, technology development and product testing. Then there are the processing, fabrication and manufacturing operations. All that comes before marketing, merchandising and supply chain development.

Once over all those hurdles, businesses must position themselves to innovate so that new technological advances won’t eventually make their enterprises obsolete.

One example of a successful navigation of that path is the nearly 15-year-old company Grubisic leads as general manager, Laser Components DG, which has established a solid niche in the global photodetector market.

From the very beginning and over the years, Grubisic said the company — headquartered at the Arizona State University Research Park — has steadily grown and thrived in large part due to an ongoing collaboration with one of the university’s core user research facilities, NanoFab, and some of its associated faculty members.

Providing an entry point to the industry

Laser Components DG (the DG stands for Detector Group) is one of more than 100 startups and established companies that have benefitted from NanoFab’s wide array of high-tech research and development tools and the expertise of its technical staff and faculty members.

The ASU nanotechnology facility is equipped to perform the nanotechnology engineering on which more and more of the world’s advanced electronics and photonics devices and systems are based. Its specialties are the nanoprocessing and nanofabrication required to produce prototypes of new devices from nanoscale materials.

“We have the capacity for collaborations with companies that have a variety of needs,” said Yong-Hang Zhang, a professor of electrical engineering in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Zhang is the immediate past director of NanoFab and now leads it as chair of the faculty governance board.

Most startups “don’t have the money to buy the kinds of processing and testing equipment they need,” Zhang said, “so they can do work at NanoFab that they could never afford to do on their own.”

And they can do that economically and conveniently by paying for use of the ASU nanotechnology facility by the year or by the hour, and various time frames in between.

NanoFab also offers the expertise of seven technical staffers, some of whom have more than 25 years of nanotechnology experience. Users can also get assistance from doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers through collaborations with faculty members affiliated with NanoFab.

After their initial experiences with the ASU nanotechnology facility, many startups and industry users have returned to work on new projects.

“When their companies mature and need to expand or diversify, they come back to us for more research and development,” Zhang said.

Value in the partnership

The collaboration with Laser Components DG has been one of NanoFab’s most consistently active of many long-term industry working relationships.

Two of Laser Components DG’s employees work full time at NanoFab, plus the company pays to support work by an ASU postdoctoral researcher. Over the years, it has boosted its business performance by refining and expanding the capabilities of its electronic detection and sensing devices through its work at the ASU nanotechnology facility.

The company manufactures, assembles and tests avalanche photodiodes — photodetectors based on silicon developed by the company through its work with NanoFab.

The devices are used in laser radar systems, biomedical and military applications, monitoring of ground moisture to optimize agricultural irrigation and sensing of dangerous gases for safety monitoring of mines and oil fields.

The detectors are also employed in many industrial systems and in security devices, barcode readers, range finders for distance measurements, as well as for remote temperature sensing, inspections in food packaging, sorting operations in waste recycling and in hyperspectral imaging.

Laser Components DG’s products are sold around the world, including in sizable markets throughout Asia, Australia, South America and Africa.

The Tempe-based company employs 25 people — among them physicists, chemists and electrical, mechanical, materials and software engineers.

Grubisic said the longtime mutually beneficial arrangement with NanoFab is a major factor in the company’s hard-earned success in a demanding market environment.

“We bring a need for research, ASU brings smart people, sophisticated processing and measurement equipment with extensive failure analysis capabilities. We know that by combining our knowledge and our resources, we can always get something done that will move us forward,” he said.