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New Lurie lab to lure research, jobs
37,000-square-foot addition at nanofabrication facility named after CoE graduate

Related story:
Blasting wafers, twisting wires, Lurie Nanocamp exposes kids to future >

An "artificial eye" puts the components of a digital camera on a sphere the size of a human eye. It could lead to better, smaller cameras as well as visual prostheses.
Derek Wu, a ninth-grader, pries his silicon wafer off the wet chemistry bench in the Lurie Nanofabrication Facility during Nanocamp. See link to related story top of this page. (Photo by Nicole Casal Moore)

A smart stent could not only prop open a patient's arteries, but wirelessly transmit readings of pressure and blood flow to warn of blockages.

A wristwatch-sized gas analyzer could detect chemical warfare agents or air pollutants in a few seconds. Existing systems are the size of a large suitcase and take many minutes.

These are among the countless technologies under development at what used to be the Michigan Nanofabrication Facility and Solid State Electronics Laboratory. Now, with a new name and a new 37,500-square-foot addition, the Robert H. Lurie Nanofabrication Facility is expected to bring more research opportunities, more jobs and more dollars to the region's economy.

The building was dedicated April 11 in a ceremony on North Campus. The expansion was funded largely by donors, including a leadership gift from Ann Lurie, wife of the late Robert Lurie, a Chicago-based real estate investor who received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the College of Engineering.

"If you have ever wondered what an economic engine looks like, look no further," said President Mary Sue Coleman. "We all know that our state is undergoing a difficult and sometimes painful economic transformation, as we evolve from a manufacturing base to one that seizes the power and promise of technology and innovation.

"We are always looking for ways to extend our impact in terms of job development and research innovation, and the Lurie Nanofabrication Facility is a stunning new asset in these efforts."

In 2007 the lab hosted 219 users: researchers from U-M and 13 other universities, as well as companies from southeast Michigan and beyond. A total of 22 local companies utilized the lab and 32 researchers used it remotely, meaning engineers here performed the work and sent the companies the results.

The lab brought in $24 million in research grants in 2007. And more than a dozen companies have spun out of research performed in the lab since 2000.

U-M officials say the $40-million addition will enable even greater opportunities.

"This expansion represents a very important investment of the University," said professor Kensall Wise, director of WIMS and the LNF. "We expect it to reap huge dividends in terms of jobs and contribute to the quality of life, not only here in Michigan, but across the globe. This is a world-class center and many of the things that come out of it will change the way people live."

The lab expansion brings a nearly 70-percent increase in cleanroom square footage. An additional 4,500 square feet was built, bringing the cleanroom to 11,000 square feet. And a 2,800-square-foot wet facility was added. Most wet chemistry simply couldn't be performed in the old lab because it could contaminate the nanotechnology work currently underway. Approximately $20 million in new state-of-the-art equipment will be purchased and installed during the next few years.

Most of the new construction isn't lab space. It's support space, where scrubbers, fans and filters reside to keep the cleanroom clean and the entire facility safe.

Stephen Forrest, vice president for research and a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, uses the lab every day. The artificial eye is one of his projects.

"To create something like this, you need many different pieces of complex and expensive processing equipment," Forrest said. "The infrastructure in this lab is well beyond what most small companies and even medium-sized companies could afford. It would be almost impossible for them to build their own labs. And we have it all right here. It's not just about machines and cleanrooms, but about the expertise of the technical staff as well."

The College and the University have several new efforts to improve the entrepreneurial climate in the area: the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Business Engagement Center.

"The new laboratory will accelerate that change and act as a vehicle for prototype development for a wide number of companies," Wise said.

The facility is one of 13 nodes on the National Science Foundation's National Nanofabrication Infrastructure Network.

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