January 20, 2010
Peter Rooney
Director of Public Affairs

AMHERST, Mass.—The Physics Department at AmherstCollege will be the beneficiary of federal stimulus money, thanks to a $350,000 National Science Foundation grant received by Professors Jonathan Friedman, David Hall and Larry Hunter and UMass physicist Mark Tuominen.  The grant funds will be used to purchase a state-of-the-art electron-beam evaporation system.

The system, which may be installed at MerrillScienceCenter as early as this summer, will be about the size of a small car, said Friedman, the principal investigator for the grant.

The new evaporator will be used to fabricate superconducting structures and devices, make specialized optical devices and electromagnetic resonators, and create electrodes for studying magnetic materials.  These activities will support work in numerous fundamental and applied research areas, such as quantum computing, ultra-low-temperature physics, materials science, and nanoscience/nanotechnology. 

The system’s components will include a large high-vacuum chamber in which thin metal films will be deposited on a silicon chip or other substrate.  An electron beam is used to evaporate some material, such as aluminum or gold. 

“The energetic electrons hitting the target material cause some of that material to evaporate and it condenses on a piece of silicon or other material you’re trying to coat,” Friedman explained. “I will be using this to make aluminum superconducting devices that can be used in quantum computers.

“(Professor) David Hall will use the equipment to make custom optical elements that he uses for  imaging Bose-Einstein condensates” Friedman said. “And, (Professor) Larry Hunter will use the equipment to put electrodes on magnetic materials that he studies.”  Like Friedman, Tuominen will use the evaporator to produce superconducting structures and devices.

The equipment will greatly expand the number and sophistication of experiments that can be conducted at Amherst, by faculty and undergraduate students, Friedman said.   

“The thermal evaporator we have now is obsolete – it’s on its last legs, really,” Friedman said. “It’s hard if not impossible to get parts for it, and it can only evaporate one material at a time. The new system will be much more reliable and it can be easily used by students. It will allow us to do many other things that we weren’t able to do before.”  For example, the new system will include an argon-ion gun that will be used to cleanse surfaces to prepare them for the deposition process.

The evaporation system will be used by undergraduates from Amherst and Mt.HolyokeColleges, graduate students from the University of Massachusetts, and postdoctoral researchers and faculty from all three institutions.  The funding for this equipment comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, through an NSF program called Major Research Instrumentation-R².

 “It’s a special solicitation that the NSF announced this past summer that wouldn’t have happened without the stimulus,” Friedman said.