UCLA’s high-tech capabilities for creating atomically tiny devices and materials are undergoing a multimillion-dollar upgrade.

The enhancements include adding state-of-the-art fabrication equipment to its existing cleanrooms — specialized laboratories where the air is free from dust and other particles. The changes will allow researchers to build new generations of small devices, such as computer chips that mimic how the brain works, ultra high-efficiency batteries and solar panels, and even biological sensors for rapid and portable diagnosis.

As part of the upgrade, two existing cleanrooms will merge under a single operation — called the UCLA Nanofabrication Laboratory, or UCLA NanoLab for short. The new entity combines resources from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering’s Nanoelectronics Research Facility and the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA’s Integrated Systems Nanofabrication Cleanroom. The upgrades, which began this year, should be complete in 2022.

The UCLA NanoLab is available to the campus community, as well as to researchers from other institutions and high-tech companies. Hundreds of businesses have already used UCLA’s cleanrooms. The facility has remained active during the COVID-19 pandemic, although applications to use it are subject to campus guidance designed to limit the spread of the disease. 

The upgrades are being made possible by a combined multimillion-dollar investment from UCLA Engineering, CNSI and the office of UCLA’s vice chancellor of research.

“This joint investment is an important demonstration of a strategic partnership with an impact that will extend across campus and beyond,” said Adam Stieg, an associate director of CNSI responsible for the institute’s technology centers. “Providing this type of advanced research infrastructure will accelerate the translation of early-stage scientific discoveries into new technologies and knowledge-driven enterprises.”

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