A team of 12 Georgetown University professors will be adding a new three-dimensional nanolithography instrument, a tool used to create small structures that are measured in nanometers, to the university’s laboratory, after receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation Program on Aug. 25.
The interdisciplinary team consists of professors Kai Liu, Rhonda Dzakpasu, Stella Alimperti, Mak Paranjape, Jeffrey Urbach, Edward Van Keuren, Nagarjuna Gavvalapalli, Daniel Blair, Emanuela Del Gado, Peter Olmsted, Paola Barbara and Gen Yin from the physics, chemistry and cellular and molecular biology departments. Kai Liu, a professor and McDevitt chair in the department of physics led the team.
“It all started with a common interest. I talked to my colleagues and actually found out that quite a few of them share similar interests and need for the capability to do 3-D printing with very small feature sizes,” Liu told the Hoya.
Nanolithography is a process in which a shape or design is etched into a material at the nanometer scale between 10-9 and 10-6 meters, which is around the wavelength of light. It is widely used in semiconductor manufacturing processes, wherein numerous ever-shrinking circuit elements are built into a single chip.
“Typically, lithography is done on two- or one-dimensional scales, and so going into the third dimension to make extremely tiny objects, that’s a new challenge,” Liu said. “There are plenty of applications for 3-D printing, usually making macroscopic objects. However, 3-D printing at the nanometer scale is much more challenging.We’re going after one of the leading techniques that allow us to do that.”
Alimperti, an associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology at the Georgetown University Medical Center, was one of the principal medical campus faculty members involved and said this new technology would benefit her research by allowing the construction of structures mimicking the human body.
“Once I had the opportunity to discuss with Kai regarding this equipment, I thought that it would be great as an expansion,” Alimperti told The Hoya. “Using this equipment, we will have the ability to make a representative carbon assay, where we can mimic and understand cancer migration and metastasis.”
According to Liu, other research endeavors using this nanolithography instrument span a wide range of topics, even within the department of physics. One topic of research is an exploration in how topology, the way something is shaped, impacts magnetic properties.
“We hope to pursue research into nanoscale magnets that are incorporated into certain topological geometries,” Liu said. “The magnets are expected to exhibit very interesting magnetic and electronic properties.”
The team said they are also considering how to construct three-dimensional networks made of magnetic materials.
“These networks could be used for 3-D information storage and neuromorphic, brain-inspired, computing,” Liu said. “The human brain is five or six orders of magnitude more energy-efficient than current supercomputers, while being capable of completing amazing calculations.”
Other teams involved in the grant will be investigating complex three-dimensional networks of organic and inorganic materials.
“We’ve shown that some networks can have extremely good filtration performance, similar to that of an N95 mask, while also being reusable,” Liu said. “A Georgetown team placed in the top 10 out of 1,500 submissions in a mask innovation challenge hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services.”
Alimperti hopes that this is the start of even more collaborative efforts between various science departments on campus.
“I am hoping for far more multidisciplinary research and applications, and this can happen through grants such as this and through common publications with others,” Alimperti said. “We really try to breed a connection between the Main Campus and the Medical Center.”
Liu said the nanolithography instrument will be valuable for the Georgetown community as a whole because of the opportunities it will create for students.
“This is not only a research tool, it’s also an education tool. We are going to integrate this with various courses that our faculty are teaching, so it’s not locked up in a lab. We will have a variety of opportunities for students to be involved with research, some in more conventional lab settings and some as a part of courses. Whatever the setting, we want this to be accessible to a broader Georgetown scientific community,” Liu said.
The instrument will likely be at Georgetown sometime next year, according to Liu. Physics student Michael Mullin (CAS ’26) said he is excited the instrument will be available for undergraduates to expand their experiential learning experiences.
“The faculty’s commitment to education rather than simply publishing research has been invaluable in my experience so far as a physics major,” Mullin told The Hoya. “This new lithography instrument sounds fascinating, especially given my interest in nanotechnology, and I am especially excited by its potential use in the classroom.”