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New NSF Engineering Research Center to Enable Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Devices

Photo of photonic crystal structures for LEDs created with wafer-scale nanopatterning.

Wafer-scale nanopatterning maybe used in the fabrication of LED structures.

September 10, 2012

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today an award to the University of Texas at Austin and its partners to establish a new NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) focused on nanoscale manufacturing and systems to make the performance promised by nanomaterials and nanotechnologies more pervasive. 

The ERC, one in a cohort of three with a nanosystems focus, will pursue interdisciplinary research and education to address questions important to both nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing and to meet critical industry needs through innovation.  NSF will invest $18.5 million in the Center over the next five years.

The NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and Mobile Energy Technologies (NASCENT) will create high-throughput, reliable, and versatile nanomanufacturing process systems and will demonstrate them through the manufacture of mobile devices.  Future mobile devices will require high performance, low cost, and low power components that will be realized only by the practical manufacture of nanostructured materials and devices. 

NASCENT seeks to overcome current limitations of low reliability and throughput by developing transformative nanomanufacturing systems and processes for nanostructured silicon, graphene, and other materials.  In their investigation of various device materials and architectures, researchers will create predictive computational tools to model, scale up, and control manufacturing processes. The researchers will optimize manufacturing productivity with the creation of high-yield wafer-scale and roll-to-roll nanomanufacturing systems with in-line measurement systems. With materials that are more easily processed and device architectures that are compatible with improved nanomanufacturing processes, the Center seeks to enable mass production of economically competitive mobile computing devices and energy technologies with unprecedented capabilities. 

The Center also seeks to educate diverse students in nanomanufacturing imbued with "Innovator's DNA" -- the skills of innovation and entrepreneurship that can be taught. Center students will be prepared to become highly skilled global leaders through classroom training, strong mentorship, interdisciplinary research, and industrial internships and professional interactions with nanomanufacturing leaders. The Center will cultivate a path to college engineering degree programs by providing creative students from middle through high school with an understanding of engineering concepts and laboratory research experience.

The lead institution for NASCENT is the University of Texas at Austin, which will partner extensively with the University of New Mexico and the University of California at Berkeley. Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science and Seoul National University will contribute additional expertise and international opportunities for student education. 

Collaboration with more than a dozen non-academic partners -- from local start-ups to large multinationals, regional innovation organizations, and government agencies and laboratories -- will spur innovation and provide university students with first-hand experience in industrial manufacturing and entrepreneurship.  The Center will also interact closely with complementary research centers and organizations specializing in technology transfer to stimulate innovation based on its research.

Since 1985, the ERC program has fostered extensive collaborations to create technological breakthroughs for new products and services and to prepare U.S. engineering graduates for successful participation in the global economy. The three centers launched this year, as part of the third generation of NSF ERCs (Gen-3 ERCs), place increased emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, partnerships with small research firms in translational research, education of an innovative engineering workforce, and international collaboration and cultural exchange.

The Nanosystems ERCs (NERCs) are expected to create transformational science and engineering platforms for the respective fields of nanoscale research, education, and innovation. As appropriate to its particular areas of research, each NERC will include the societal and environmental implications of the nano-enabled scientific and technological breakthroughs. The new centers are part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which provides a conceptual framework and additional collaborative opportunities, and they are strategically designed to build on more than a decade's worth of investment and discoveries in fundamental nanoscale science and engineering.

"The work of this Center will address a vital need in advanced manufacturing," said Lynn Preston, the leader of the ERC Program. "The ability to manufacture technologies with enhanced functionality, because they incorporate materials and devices processed with new nanomanufacturing tools, would have a world-wide impact on communications, computing, education, healthcare, and security."

-Cecile J. Gonzalez, NSF,


Media Contacts
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730,
Maria Arrellaga, University of Texas at Austin, (512) 232-8060,

NSF Program Contacts
Lynn Preston, NSF, (703) 292-5358,
Mary Toney, NSF, (703) 292-7008,

Principal Investigator
Roger Bonnecaze, University of Texas at Austin, (512) 471-1497,

Related Websites
NSF ERC website:  
National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI): 

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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