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Rice UniversityCBEN
Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology
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Technical Staff and Instrumentation

CBEN is committed to forming at Rice a major instrumentation facility for nanoscience and engineering. Over one million dollars of funding provides for new equipment for CBEN. These purchases will add to an already extensive nanoequipment portfolio paid for from a five million dollar alumni fundraising campaign completed by Rice's Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology in 1996. To take full advantage of this extensive investment in nanotechnology instrumentation, however, requires a management strategy which provides for long-term stewardship of the equipment. CBEN has put into place a robust and lasting solution to the problem of shared equipment management. The highlights of our program include:

  • Strategic equipment purchases, to supplement existing instrumentation.
  • A campus initiative for faculty management called the shared equipment authority.
  • New technical staff positions for training and maintenance.

Rice University has laid the groundwork for our center's experimental facilities as part of their three-year fundraising campaign for nanoscience. Our new nanoscience and technology building, Dell Butcher Hall, houses a state-of-the-art equipment room designed for minimal vibration and electrical isolation. This equipment includes a Phillips environmental SEM, a JEOL electron beam lithography system, two Digital Instruments Atomic Force Microscopes, an Omicron low temperature UHV-STM, and a variety of smaller items such as sputter and spin coaters. Other instrumentation located elsewhere on campus and available for common use include a JEOL 2010cx transmission electron microscope, a Nicolet FTIR microscope, a high-resolution X-ray diffractometer and an ISA Raman microscope. Additionally, the Texas Center for X-ray Crystallography is housed at Rice and manages two single-crystal, a powder, and a small-angle X-ray diffractometer.

Recent purchase have included a new scanning electron microscope to allow for the imaging of biological materials, as well as the mesostructure of nanofiltration and bone replacement polymers. Secondly, our ten year-old transmission electron microscope has been upgraded. While this instrument is capable of high resolution imaging, its reliance on film for imaging and the lack of a TV-rate camera for on-screen astigmatism adjustment make it difficult to use for quantitative high-resolution microscopy. This upgrade retrofited the microscope with a digital camera and software for routine high-resolution imaging. We have acquired a parallel supercomputer with multiprocessor nodes running in shared-memory SEP configuration through high-speed switches. This facility will support both the memory applications, and the massively-parallel MPI codes. Further purchases are planned as the evolving center-wide needs become clear.

Campus Initiative in Equipment Management: The SEA

Maintaining expensive equipment whose users are widely distributed across departments is a serious organizational challenge. Previously at Rice, equipment has been used primarily within a department, and the departments have been individually responsible for identifying appropriate sources of funding for maintenance costs, including user fees when the equipment is used for more than one research project. CBEN recognized that a shared instrumentation stewardship program would greatly benefit multi-departmental users of expensive scientific instruments. To this end, the Shared Equipment Authority (SEA) has been formed.

CBEN played a lead role in the formation of this faculty initiative. The deans of natural sciences and engineering have agreed to transfer control of such shared equipment, roughly twenty instruments across campus, to the SEA faculty oversight committee. Chaired by the co-director of CBEN, Dr. Vicki Colvin, this faculty working group provides a forum for setting instrument policies, user fees, and debating resource allocations. Fees will be assessed to all users in accordance with established university policy and procedures for user fees. All CBEN equipment will serve the faculty community and CBEN researchers through this organization. While SEA is a CBEN initiative, its membership is not limited to CBEN participants. This is because a long-term solution to the problems of shared equipment infrastructure cannot be developed by considering only those instruments purchased by single centers (like CBEN) or single departments.

Full-time staff for student training and equipment maintenance.

Two permanent, full-time technical staff positions have been introduced to oversee experimental equipment, one maintaining the various microscopes while the second is available for biological instrumentation, primarily NMR. These staffers share responsibility for instrument maintenance, serve as the contact point for repairs, and offer training to students, post-doctoral associates, and visiting scientists. The system administrator will be responsible for configuring the machine, adding users, doing periodic upgrades, maintaining a web page for the facility with information on the queuing system and software manuals, and delivering periodic training seminars for new users.