CIRMM: a Unique Attempt to Promote International Cooperation in Micro- and Nanotechnology Research
Miwako Waga (Director, Global Emerging Technology Institute)
Nicholas Negroponte, founding director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, once mentioned in one of his columns for Wired magazine that new ideas always come from different perspectives. These ways would include a diversity of thinking and different cultural backgrounds. A global environment is conducive to creative thinking, because such an environment constantly allows you to re-examine your assumptions and hypotheses and helps you see things from different angles, he argued. His observation still holds true with today's research and development which has evolved into an undertaking which requires a greater deal of collaboration among scientists and engineers with different backgrounds to solve real-world challenges. If the cultural dimension is added to the diversity of technical backgrounds, the research environment may become even more productive and exciting. The Center for International Research on MicroMechatronics (CIRMM) at the Institute of Industrial Science (IIS), The University of Tokyo, is a prime example of the effort to create a stimulating research environment in Japan.
The Center was set up within IIS in April 2000 with the aim of establishing international networks of research institutes and researchers in Japan, Europe, the US, and Asia. IIS has developed a collaborative research relationship with the French CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) since 1995 and maintained a joint laboratory called LIMMS (Laboratory for Integrated MicroMechatornic Systems) in its campus in Tokyo. CNRS and the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) provide research budgets which are used to invite French researchers to conduct research in IIS. The research topics being pursued at the joint laboratory LIMMS are designed to fit the research scope of IIS host laboratories and to be paired with the expertise found in CNRS laboratories. LIMMS is affiliated with three French laboratories:
- Institute of Microtechniques of Franche Comte (IMFC) in Besancon
- Institute of Electronics and Microelectronics of Northern France (IEMN) in Lille
- Laboratory for the Analysis and the Architecture of Systems (LAAS) in Toulouse
Thirteen faculty members at IIS host French researchers in their labs. These researchers focus on areas ranging from micromachining, micro/nano optics and quantum photonic devices, MEMS, advanced scanning probe microscopes to bio-micro systems and bio-molecular mechanics. With LIMMS activity serving as a core for the development of international networks, professors affiliated with CIRMM can strengthen ties with their counterparts in other institutes in Europe, the US, Asia and Japan. The main office of CIRMM is located at Prof. H. Fujita's laboratory in IIS, The University of Tokyo, and the CIRMM/CRNS Paris office is located in Laboratoire d'Informatique de Paris XI, France.
The diversity of research interests of the researchers involved with LIMMS/CIRMM was displayed at the Seiken (IIS) Symposium on Micro/Nano Mechatronics, held March 25-26, 2002 at IIS campus in Komaba, Tokyo. Both oral and visual presentations were very informative. A. Bosseboeuf of the Institut d'Electronique Fondamentale, CNRS-Universite Paris XI, presented optical techniques for static and dynamical characterization of MEMS, with an emphasis on profilometry and vibrometry interferometric techniques which allow full-field 3D measurements. F. Chollet of Nanyang Technological University discussed rapidly improving MEMS research infrastructure in Singapore and described optical MEMS activities at the University. H. Kawakatsu of IIS, The University of Tokyo, gave an overview of scanning probe techniques, including nanocantilevers, which may be useful as a tool for research in nanotechnology and nanomethanics. J. Brugger of the Institute of Microelectronics and Microsystems, EPFL, Switzerland, presented new methods for making nanoscale structures by top-down engineering methods that combine unconventional techniques, such as oxidation sharpening control of nanomolds and self-assembled monolayers for use as sacrificial layer for MEMS. Brugger also proposed a new nano-patterning technique, called the nanostencile, based on the shadow-masking through ultra-thin miniature solid-state membranes. In general, the LIMMS/CIRMM researchers were particularly interested in bioMEMS (mechanical insertion of genes in cells), optical MEMS (micromachined tunable VCSEL), and metrology.
The IIS laboratories moved from the old, cramped building in Roppongi it previously occupied to a newly-built modern facility on the Komaba campus in 2001. Most of the key tools required for microsystems design and fabrication are available in the new facility. In addition to the large clean room for silicon and III-V semiconductor processes, each of the host professors has his own laboratory to carry out tests of specific or unconventional processes. The well-equipped, well-staffed research environment is expected to draw the attention of foreign researchers as CIRMM expands its networking activity into Europe, the US, and Asia.