NJIT - New Jersey Institute of Technology

12/05/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 12/06/2019 00:23

NJIT Opens State-of-the-Art Nanoelectronics Fabrication Facility

Sagnik Basuray is developing a device the size of a dollar coin that will detect cancer biomarkers in patients in remission by sampling a tiny drop of blood with a dip stick. His sensor is groundbreaking not only in its simplicity, but also in its portability. It's meant to be used at home.

'Cancer patients in remission need to be kept informed at all times about the status of their disease, so a point-of-care test that they can administer themselves makes sense,' noted Basuray, an assistant professor of chemical and materials engineering. 'We're designing one that is non-invasive, rapid and cost-effective.'

But a device that small, with parts inside that are much smaller, cannot be fabricated in a regular lab or makerspace. It requires a dust-free cleanroom with high-tech instruments that is entered only by researchers in contamination-free 'bunny suits.'

So it was with great fanfare that NJIT opened its newest research facility, the Microfabrication Innovation Center (MIC), where Basuray and other technologists will be able to create their own nano- and microelectronic sensors and microfluidic devices on campus.

'Faculty and students will be able to test, validate and translate innovative medical device and biosensor technologies to improve diagnosis and treatment of critical diseases and advance detection and remediation of pollutants,' Atam Dhawan, senior vice provost for research, said at the ribbon-cutting Thursday.

In a tour of the facility, housed in the former Microelectronics Research Center, visitors walked through the series of rooms where researchers will print their designs on silicon or plates of glass, fabricate and test them. Because the parts they are making are micro- and nanoscale, the rooms will be free of potentially contaminating particles larger than a micron. The highest-level cleanroom will be limited to 100 1-micron particles in a cubic meter of air.

Other devices that will take shape in the facility include powerful diagnostic sensor systems, including electrochemical DNA sensors, that are miniaturized down to the size of a single molecule and a device that uses on-chip electrochemical mass spectrometry to elucidate protein structures and determine protein quantities.

Working with colleagues on and off campus, Omowunmi Sadik, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science, is developing smart sensors inspired by cognitive and autonomous behaviors in the slime mold. She plans to use the MIC to develop new sensor designs, including innovative microfluidic collection, cargos and molecular robots inspired by the slime mold for environmental monitoring.

The ability to create their technologies on campus will spur researchers to pursue more ambitious projects, Lisa Axe, chair of the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, remarked at the opening. Using outside R&D facilities for fabrication 'hides work from other labs and colleagues' and prompts inventors to settle for 'less risky designs' that do not need continuous monitoring.

'To translate our device from theory to the physical world, we must fabricate our own complex - and often very small - instruments,' said Pedro Moura, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and a researcher in Basuray's lab, who is studying the fluid forces that govern the high selectivity of the testing device.

Provost Fadi Deek noted, 'This facility will also serve a critical educational purpose: It represents an investment in our future that will provide U.S. industries with a highly trained science and engineering workforce essential for remaining competitive in the area of medical devices, an important sector of our economy.'

Indeed, Robert Cohen '83, '84, '87, chair elect of NJIT's Board of Trustees and head of the research and development team for the joint replacement division of Stryker, called the university's work on advanced sensors particularly relevant for his industry. Inserted into implants, these tiny devices could relay information remotely to doctors and technicians about a patient's level of activity following a hip or knee replacement, for example, or the beginnings of an infection.

'If the pain is not resolved, the patient could end up on an IV in the hospital,' he said.

In acknowledging support for the facility from the state of New Jersey, NJIT President Joel Bloom noted, 'NJIT's MIC will address the need for the New Jersey medical device industry to innovate and grow, so the state's investment in this facility will yield dividends and benefit us all in the years to come.'