A Big New Home for the Ultrasmall

MIT.nano building—the largest of its kind—will usher in a new age of nanoscale advancements.

MIT.nano interior hallway

Nanotechnology, the cutting-edge research field that explores ultrasmall materials, organisms, and devices, has now been graced with the largest, most sophisticated, and most accessible university research facility of its kind in the U.S.: It is the new MIT.nano building, which had its official opening October 4, 2018.

The state-of-the-art facility at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, includes two large floors of connected clean-room spaces that are open to view from the outside and available for use by an extraordinary number and variety of researchers across the Institute. It also features a whole floor of undergraduate chemistry teaching labs, and an ultrastable basement level dedicated to electron microscopes and other exquisitely sensitive imaging and measurement tools.

“In recent decades, we have gained the ability to see into the nanoscale with breathtaking precision. This insight has led to the development of tools and instruments that allow us to design and manipulate matter like nature does, atom by atom and molecule by molecule,” says Vladimir Bulović, the Fariborz Maseeh Professor in Emerging Technology and founding director of MIT.nano. “MIT.nano has arrived on campus at the dawn of the Nano Age. In the decades ahead, its open-access facilities for nanoscience and nanoengineering will equip our community with instruments and processes that can further harness the power of nanotechnology in service to humanity’s greatest challenges.”

“In terms of vibrations and electromagnetic noise, MIT.nano may be the quietest space on campus. But in a community where more than half of recently tenured faculty do work at the nanoscale, MIT.nano’s superb shared facilities guarantee that it will become a lively center of community and collaboration, says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “I am grateful to the exceptional team—including Provost Martin Schmidt, Founding Director Vladimir Bulovic, and many others—that delivered this extraordinarily sophisticated building on an extraordinarily inaccessible construction site, making a better MIT so we can help to make a better world.”

Accessible and Flexible

The 214,000-square-foot building, with its soaring glass facades, sophisticated design and instrumentation, and powerful air-exchange systems, lies at the heart of campus and just off the Infinite Corridor. It took shape during six years of design and construction, and was delivered exactly on schedule and on budget, a rare achievement for such a massive and technologically complex construction project.

“MIT.nano is a game-changer for the MIT research enterprise,” says Vice President for Research Maria Zuber.

“It will provide measurement, imaging, and fabrication capabilities that will dramatically advance science and technology in disciplines across the Institute,” adds Provost Martin Schmidt.

At the heart of the building are two levels of clean rooms—research environments in which the air is continuously scrubbed and replaced to maintain a standard that allows no more than 100 particles of  0.5 microns or larger within a cubic foot of air. To achieve such cleanliness, work on the building has included strict filtration measures and access restrictions for more than a year, and at the moment, with the spaces not yet in full use, they far exceed that standard.

All of the lab and instrumentation spaces in the building will be used as shared facilities, accessible to any MIT researcher who needs the specialized tools that will be installed there over the coming months and years. The tools will be continually upgraded, as the building is designed to be flexible and ready for the latest advances in equipment for making, studying, measuring, and manipulating nanoscale objects—things measured in billionths of a meter, whether they be technological, biological, or chemical.

Read more on MIT.nano designed by Wilson HGA at MIT News.