Sandia National Labratories University Partnerships

How does an engineer rectify stiction failure within a closed, packaged microsystem (more specifically, a microelectromechanical [MEMS] system)? A collaboration at CINT (the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies) between Sandian John Sullivan and UNM professor Zayd Leseman has gone a long way toward answering that question. Leseman was finishing his PhD research at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC), when he and Sullivan met at a scientific conference, and Sullivan had already developed “lots of regard for his MEMS work.” Given the mutually perceived overlap in their research interests, they discussed the possibility of a Sandia postdoc position, but in the interim, Leseman received the offer of an assistant professorship from UNM. Although in terms of endowment size, UNM was “not MIT or UIUC,” Leseman recognized a nanoscience program on the upswing and “the proximity of Sandia and Los Alamos was a very positive selling point”; Leseman accepted the faculty position. “It was great news for me . . . made it easier to collaborate,” Sullivan comments about the turn of events. That ongoing mutual interest in collaborating led to Leseman’s funded SURP application. “SURP was a great jump-start for a new faculty member, a really nice asset for some short-timeline funding, allowing him to bring in some graduate students,” Sullivan observes. The collaboration’s fit was a quite productive one. Amid a significant theoretical and modeling environment at CINT, Leseman brought the experimental skills of a mechanical engineer to the micro and nanomechanical arenas of microelectromechanical system (MEMS) devices, microscale assemblages of minuscule moving parts and electronics at chip-scale size, which are often used a tiny sensors both in homeland security and medical applications. Frequently, components of such MEMS devices are microcantilevers, somewhat analogous to microscopic diving boards that oscillate with known properties. When a diver steps onto a full-sized board, its movements, of course, change, and microcantilevers are analogous in that their motion changes when molecules of particular substances adhere to them, substances for which they can be specialized to bind, and therefore can recognize as sensors. The changes in microcantilever movement will be a function of the amount of binding of a given substance (reflecting that substance’s concentration), and integrated microscale or nanoscale electronics will send a signal about the concentration of that substance in the MEMS device’s environment — glucose in a diabetic patient’s blood, for example. Problematically, microcantilevers can suffer from a phenomenon known as stiction, a type of microscale adhesion that inactivates their function, and which Sullivan characterized as a “constant MEMS issue.” This might be especially relevant for a packaged sensor that has been stored for a time prior to use. Leseman’s work at CINT approached a solution to this problem through the use of alternating current electric fields to free a microcantilever frozen by stiction, a method that can be used in an intact, already packaged MEMS device, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of potentially expensive and destructive disassembly/ reassembly. “This was an ideal opportunity for Zayd to collaborate, in terms of the capabilities in my lab,” Sullivan notes. Leseman and his graduate student, Drew Goettler, a former Air Force captain, formally became users at CINT, and two papers including Goettler, Leseman, and Sullivan as authors are in the pipeline for publication. The stiction work funded by SURP directly led to Goettler’s MS from UNM. Additionally, it has resulted in funding to Leseman through an NSF grant that includes Sullivan and CINT as collaborators. Moreover, the collaboration not only continues but has broadened. Goettler is pursuing his PhD, his research closely connected to a current LDRD project headed by Sandian Ihab El-kady in the area of phononics. Leseman is likewise a contributor to this project, but he has also collaborated or is currently collaborating with numerous other Sandians, including Troy Olsson (1749-2), Matthew Blain (1725), and Eric Shaner (1128). “A marriage made in heaven,” Leseman effuses, on the one hand, referring to engineering manpower available to Sandia by way of many quality graduate students flocking to UNM’s nanoscience program, and on the other to “intellectual stimulation” that exposure to Sandia science brings to UNM personnel, in return. According to Sullivan, Leseman will find “lots of collaborative opportunities at Sandia” into which to “funnel his students.” From Leseman’s perspective, proximity is a genuine virtue. He notes that professors are loathe to send their graduate student away to work in other laboratories because it cuts down on direct contact time and potentially interferes with other responsibilities of their graduate program. But that issue is made far more tractable with the geographic proximity of UNM and Sandia. And with a greater number of UNM graduate students coming to do work at Sandia should ensue a greater likelihood that some will be identified and successfully recruited as staff members. Leseman’s feedback around Drew Goettler is that his Sandia investigators are “ecstatic” about his work, and indeed, Goettler is likely to be first in the recruitment line as he finishes his doctorate. Throughout this productive, collaborative atmosphere, Leseman has only one regret. “I feel sorry for new junior faculty coming in . . . because of the SURP ending.”

from sandia's website

Nanomachining and Nanofabrication Capability for New Mexico

A grant of more than $750,000 from the National Science Foundation will allow the purchase and installation of a new focused ion beam system for nanofabrication and nanomachining of materials in the Electron Microbeam Analysis Facility in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences on the UNM main campus. The new instrument will vastly aid research and allow for the development of new courses.
The microscope will be regularly used by more than 50 professors from five departments at UNM, from New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech. It will be available to other collaborators in academia and industry.
A team of researchers at the Center for Microengineered Materials led by Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering Abhaya Datye, Professor of Mechanical Engineering Zayd Leseman, and Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Adrian J. Brearley, worked together on the grant proposal, which will directly benefit several departments.


Technical Capabilities and Uses

The dual focused ion beam system consists of an electron optical column for imaging (an environmental scanning electron microscope or ESEM) and an ion column that is used for nano-scale machining. The instrument is equipped with an energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) system for microanalysis, and an electron back-scatter detector (EBSD) to obtain diffraction patterns of the sample. This combination of capabilities will enable research projects in materials science, engineering, and Earth and planetary sciences.
Faculty in Chemical Engineering will be able to study advanced catalysts for energy conversion and pollution control, durable fuel cells and defect free Ge/Si for low-cost photovoltaics. Other projects will include novel microfluidic devices, ion channels with potential use in DNA sequencing, cell-surface interactions in bio-films and aerosol derived particles for drug delivery.
Electrical Engineering faculty will use the instrument for increasing efficiency of lasers and infrared radiation detectors and to made advances in epitaxial growth of lattice-mismatched materials.
Civil and Mechanical Engineering faculty will use the instrument to improve understanding of scale effects on mechanical properties, particularly at the nanoscale and to enable research of the mechanics of grain boundary sliding and photonic band gap materials as sensors to detect damage in critical facilities.
Research by Faculty in Earth and Planetary Sciences includes studies of deformation and metamorphism in high-pressure metamorphic rocks formed during continental collisions and the nature of fluid/rock interactions in the Earth’s upper mantle. This research is essential for understanding the geochemical interactions between crust and mantle. Detailed studies of magnetic carriers in rocks will improve researchers' ability to understand the paleomagnetic record that is necessary for constraining the tactic evolution of complex geologic terrains around the world.
In addition the instrument will transform the ability of researchers to study site-specific regions of the earliest solids formed in the solar system and found in carbonaceous chondrites and comet particles returned by the NASA Stardust mission. The samples will be characterized structurally, chemically and isotopically to study their complex formational and thermal histories.

from UNM today's website

A Novel Calibration Method for Nano/Micro-devices

Measurements of small forces on a very small scale (femto-Newtons (10-15) to nano-Newtons(10-9)) have led to many scientific breakthroughs in the last few decades. The vast majority of force measurements made below a micro Newton are for the purpose of determining material properties. To date, there is no traceable method of calibrating forces on such a small scale, and the lack of SI traceable equipment could potentially cause improper design and failures in engineering applications. Currently, material properties of different materials have been found to have different values depending on the researcher's methods, which calls for the use of standard testing methods and SI traceable equipment. According to research, there exists no SI traceable standard of force below 5 micro Newtons, but as technology progresses, so too will the need for smaller and smaller measurements that are precise.
The unit of force, in the SI, is the Newton, which is a derived unit consisting of the kg, m, and s. Therefore, a traceable mass artifact must be used with an accurate measurement of the local gravity in order to create a primary standard of force called a deadweight. According to scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the uncertainty for deadweights on the order of 1 nN may be just as large as the force itself. Though NIST scientists have been able to effectively measure forces in the 10 nano-Newtons to 100 micro-Newtons range using an electrostatic force balance, two additional orders of magnitude (femto-Newton and pico-Newton) are still untraceable. When researchers need to calibrate their devices on their own, they do so by making assumptions about device geometry, direction, and others which can lead to false results. Thus it is asserted that in order for there to be less discrepancies and a higher confidence lever on their data, there needs to be an SI traceable method of calibration for forces ranging from femto-Newtons to nano-Newtons.
This technology overcomes current limitations with a novel method of force calibration for nano/micro-technology devices that is International System of Units (SI) traceable. This method will have an immediate impact on research where forces in the range of femto-Newtons to nano-Newtons are measured.

Apparatus and Method for the Generation of Fibrous Carbon Foams

Carbon foams can come in a variety of forms and a wide range of properties. The properties of the foams are closely correlated to the atomic structure of the carbon, density, and the pore size. These properties are highly dependent on precursor material and processing conditions, and the application for carbon foams is determined by its properties. Carbon foams are primarily used in the field of manufacturing, industry and commerce. Carbon foams can also be made suitable for thermal management, catalytic substrates, corrosion resistant filters, and electronic components. Carbon foams can be generated by the process of pyrolysis, using a sacrificial template, or by gas evolution in a carbonaceous material, such as pitch. The carbon in the foam can range from highly amorphous to highly graphitic depending on the process and conditions under which the foam is created. However, each of these methods is relatively complex and costly.


Inventors at the University of New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratories have developed a method for generating fibrous carbon foam at a relatively low temperature and pressure that is inexpensive and provides maximum flexibility in the shape and/or dimensions of the resulting foam.
Since the fibers are made of carbon, the foam is also conductive, the extent of which can be controlled during processing or after. Additionally, foreign components such as carbon or glass fibers can be incorporated into the foam, to create a composite material. The low temperature process allows for many materials with low melting temperatures to be included that are restricted in other foam processes due to high temperature requirements. This new method for generating carbon foam eliminates the lengthy carbonization steps and/or elevated pressures and temperatures used in conventional methods. Additionally, since complex geometries can be accomplished in situ, no later modification is needed to finish the product.

Customizable hangboard

Rock climbing is the perfect way to get fit, enjoy nature's beauty, and feel the exhilaration of being the master of your terrain. It requires a unique combination of skill, strength, and endurance in order to be successful. Like any sport, rock climbing requires some training and strength exercises. Unfortunately, there are very few training tools that aspiring climbers can use that are portable, lightweight, easy to install, and inexpensive. Most products available to customers require a lot of money to purchase, and a very large space in a house to set up.


This invention improves upon today’s products by giving climbers a training tool that helps increase upper body and hand strength while being very versatile. The Customizable Hangboard is made up of handholds that can be mounted on existing walls and supports, such as the rigid and reinforced area above any doorway in somebody’s house. There is no limit to the ways that these handholds can be used. The handholds can be interchanged easily, enabling the climber to practice and experience all styles of gripping and rock features. Many different styles of holds will be available for purchase so the consumer can perform numerous exercises. You can use them to perform pull-ups, chin-ups, and many hanging techniques to strengthen the entire hand, forearms, biceps, triceps, shoulders, and back muscles that are necessary for climbing.

Rapid Generation of Woven Carbon Filament Structures of Controlled Geometry at Low Temperatures

Carbon materials with their high strength to weight ratios and structural integrity at high shear stresses are desired for applications in aerospace, automotives design, sports equipment and armor, etc. However, in many cases, the manufacturing of materials is extremely difficult and limits the material design, due to extremely high temperatures, exotic custom equipment, and manufacturing schemes which limit the configuration in which the material is fabricated.


This invention addresses a wide variety of needs while solving many existing materials manufacturing problems. It provides a method of generating three dimensional structures of controlled geometry, composed of closely packed carbon filaments (diameters < 10 micron) on a metal template or metal coated template surfaces of all shapes. This method is also adaptable to grow nanometer size filaments. All filaments can be grown at relatively low temperatures (550 C) compared with other methods.

Dramatic Carbon Filament Growths Synergism From Phsical Mixtures

There are many beneficial properties of carbon nanofiber composites. However, the current production processes have limitations that prevent more widespread use of carbon nanofibers. The current process is expensive, has low output and limits the structural ability of the material. There is a need to improve the method of forming carbon nanofibers through reducing production costs and thus allowing for the use of the material to become more affordable and more widely used. A large commercial market exists for carbon nanofibers and is expected to be a billion-sized market in the next few years.


A novel method has been developed that forms carbon nanofibers from a mixture at an increased rate. This method enhances the rate of metal catalyze carbon fiber growth, from a gas phase containing a fuel rich combustible mixture of gases, by creating a catalyst composed of a physical mixture of particles of two different metals. The metal mixture is approximately 300 times more productive in the growth of carbon nanofibers than a catalyst alone.

Process for Making Carbon Fiber Foam Composites

It is well known that fibers will grow from fuel rich gas mixtures passed over proper catalysts held at the correct temperature. The University of New Mexico researchers have argued in recent publications that the process occurs via growth from homogeneously formed radicals, thus explaining the need for reactive mixtures. The present invention is the first to take advantage of this process to create composites of any kind. Fiber growth occurs when metal catalysts, in a variety of forms including particles, thin films and foils are exposed to fuel rich combustion conditions in a relatively narrow temperature range. In the present invention, it was found that under the earlier prescribed conditions fibers can grow to fill a confined space or grow around, and in given time, encapsulate objects placed in the same confined space.


The present invention provides a simple, fully scalable method for creating a unique class of carbon fiber foam composites. The composites consist of materials, including metal foil and silica fibers, fully encapsulated into a carbon body composed of nanoscale to sub-micron scale carbon fibers. Metal catalyst particles and the materials to be encapsulated are placed together in a high temperature mold in an appropriate orientation. The mold is heated to the proper temperature while a fuel rich gas mixture is passed through the mold. The resulting material is a solid body composed of a low density weave of carbon fibers in which both the catalytic materials and non-catalytic materials are incorporated.

Process for Making Carbon Fiber Foam Composites

It is well known that fibers will grow from fuel rich gas mixtures passed over proper catalysts held at the correct temperature. The University of New Mexico researchers have argued in recent publications that the process occurs via growth from homogeneously formed radicals, thus explaining the need for reactive mixtures. The present invention is the first to take advantage of this process to create composites of any kind. Fiber growth occurs when metal catalysts, in a variety of forms including particles, thin films and foils are exposed to fuel rich combustion conditions in a relatively narrow temperature range. In the present invention, it was found that under the earlier prescribed conditions fibers can grow to fill a confined space or grow around, and in given time, encapsulate objects placed in the same confined space.


The present invention provides a simple, fully scalable method for creating a unique class of carbon fiber foam composites. The composites consist of materials, including metal foil and silica fibers, fully encapsulated into a carbon body composed of nanoscale to sub-micron scale carbon fibers. Metal catalyst particles and the materials to be encapsulated are placed together in a high temperature mold in an appropriate orientation. The mold is heated to the proper temperature while a fuel rich gas mixture is passed through the mold. The resulting material is a solid body composed of a low density weave of carbon fibers in which both the catalytic materials and non-catalytic materials are incorporated.

Simple, Rapid Method for the Generation of Metal and Alloy Nanoparticles

Urea and ammonia have been known to reduce nitrogen oxide by-products since the 1970s, and have been largely used by industry to convert pollutant nitrogen oxide into nitrogen and water. The process, know as Selective Catalytic Reduction is usually performed in the presence of a substrate and a metal or oxide catalyst. There have been improvements to this method, but all of them have focus on the treatment of nitrogen oxide derivatives. The extrapolation of the reduction of volatile oxides using nitrogen groups has never been applied to the reduction of ionic metals solids to metals and alloys.


Researchers have developed a method to reduce metal salts and oxides to metallic form extremely quickly using a simple, easily scaled, chemical process. This allows them to create single metal and alloy metal particles on the nano and micron scale from metal nitrate salts. It is a simple two-step process with the capability of being a template for similar processes to create metal and alloy particles from metal halogen salts, oxides, hydroxides and other salts.

Simple, Rapid Method for the Generation of Metal and Alloy Nanoparticles

Urea and ammonia have been known to reduce nitrogen oxide by-products since the 1970s, and have been largely used by industry to convert pollutant nitrogen oxide into nitrogen and water. The process, know as Selective Catalytic Reduction is usually performed in the presence of a substrate and a metal or oxide catalyst. There have been improvements to this method, but all of them have focus on the treatment of nitrogen oxide derivatives. The extrapolation of the reduction of volatile oxides using nitrogen groups has never been applied to the reduction of ionic metals solids to metals and alloys.


Researchers have developed a method to reduce metal salts and oxides to metallic form extremely quickly using a simple, easily scaled, chemical process. This allows them to create single metal and alloy metal particles on the nano and micron scale from metal nitrate salts. It is a simple two-step process with the capability of being a template for similar processes to create metal and alloy particles from metal halogen salts, oxides, hydroxides and other salts.

UNM logo | ME home | MTTC | CHTM | Contact the webmaster | Counter | Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional