National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network

National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network

Serving Nanoscale Science, Engineering & Technology

Technical Areas

This page is obsolete. NNIN funding ended in September 2015.  NSF is creating a replacement network, NNCI, which will replace many of the NNIN functions and provide new sites, programs, and resources. NNCI does not yet have a web site.  The NSF announcement can be found here.

Nanotechnology has impact across the entire spectrum of the physical and biological science and engineering. One of the strengths of a network such as NNIN is that there is expertise across this entire spectrum. Some facilities are stronger in one technical area than others, but together NNIN offers both resources and expertise in each of the following areas.

Examples below are from the annual NNIN Research Highlights assembled in August 2012.


Electronics is where traditional planar microtechnology and nanotechnology began. Most microelectronics is done in silicon. NNIN has expertise to fabricate a range of silicon microelectronic devices as well as expertise in a variety of other materials including III-Vs and organics semiconductors. Examples of recent successful projects include

Optics and Photonics

Nanotechnology is being broadly applied within the areas of optics and photonics. These include lasers and waveguides, diffraction gratings, optical switches and modulators, photodetectors, and photonic crystals. Materials include silicon, quartz, compound semiconductors, and plastic. NNIN facilities have extensive experience and appropriate technologies for fabrication of optical structures. Examples of recent successful projects include:

MEMS and NEMS (Micro and Nano Electro-mechanical Systems)

Micro- and Nano- mechanical Systems make use of the full range of NNIN processing capabilities, including advance lithography, thin film etching, and thin film deposition. Applications include both sensors and actuators; both stand alone and integrated with electronics. The material and process demands of MEMS, however, are often different than for microelectronics. Many NNIN sites have a critical mass of MEMS users and are well positioned to support this technology. Mechanical structures are routinely fabricated in single crystal silicon, oxide, nitride, and polysilicon, as well as less commonly glass, silicon carbide, metal, and plastic. Examples of recent successful projects include:


Microfluidics is a rapidly growing subfield, often bridging MEMS, biology and chemistry. NNIN facilities provide all the necessary tools for the fabrication of mechanical devices and structures. Examples of recent successful projects include:

Nanoscale Physics

The ability of fabricate structures at the nanometer scale opens exciting new possibilities to explore the quantum world. Often these projects require e-beam lithography at sub 100nm dimensions. Examples of recent successful projects include:

Biology and Biomedical Applications

The application of nanotechnology to biology and biomedicine is one of the fastest growing technical areas within NNIN. Nanoscale structures and devices can be used to simulate biological structures, sort or detect cells or molecules, manipulate fluids, or control cell growth, for example. On the other hand, the power of microelectronics and MEMS can be harnessed to fabricate specialized electrical probes for in-vivo studies. Novel structures based on microfluidics and/or nanophotonics can be used for biosensors or other biological/chemical applications. Also, surfaces can be modified by patterning or adsorption to change bioactivity, promoting cell growth, attachment, or specialization.

Many nanostructures for biology are fabricated in common silicon and silicon dioxide, while others use plastic and glass substrates. At other times, actual biological material must be deposited or patterned, processes which raise materials compatibility issues. Some NNIN nodes have special facilities and staff expertise for addressing these issues. Recent successful projects in this area include:

Nanomaterials including Nanoparticles

In addition to driving novel structures with planar technology, nanoscience has led to the development of a wide range of nanomaterials with novel properties, enabling both fundamental studies of new materials and the development of novel devices based on these materials.

On one hand, there are the carbon nanomaterials, such as the fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. Several NNIN facilities have facilities to grow carbon nanomaterials for electronic and basic nanophysics applications.

On the other hand, a wide range of materials can be formed into nanoparticles of 100nm diameter or less. Processing materials into nanoparticle form is a specialized technology which the specialty of our Washington University at St. Louis site. They have the ability to make nanoparticles of several materials in specific sizes and even specific shapes. They also have the capability to characterize these materials. Examples of these projects include:

Geosciences and Environmental Sciences

Nanotechnologies are slowly but surely emerging as enabler for geosciences and environmental sciences research projects. From the use of simple techniques to the development of in situ sensing systems, micro and nanofabrication capabilities hold an enormous potential for the study of aquatic, atmospheric, solid Earth, and environmental systems. More information can be found here  .  Examples of recent successful projects include:

  • Rapid and Efficient Dewatering of Microalgae
  • Fabricated Nanostructures for SERS Sensing
  • 3-D Characterization of Ostracod Fossil Surface Morphology

If you have an interest or potential project in any of these areas, we encourage you to contact NNIN or one of the NNIN sites to discuss how NNIN can help with your project.