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Northwestern University's Atomic and Nanoscale Characterization Experimental Center (NUANCE), is a unit of the NSF-funded SHyNE Resource, a regional center of excellence under the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI). Our mission is to connect our imaging, characterization and analysis capabilities with regional commercial, governmental, non-profit and academic researchers. For over a decade, NUANCE has assisted thousands of award-winning faculty, scientists, engineers, medical doctors, and students with the facilities and skills required to carry out collaborative, interdisciplinary world-class nanoscale research.

Facility Highlight: 
Northwestern University Micro/Nano-Fabrication Facility (NUFAB)

NUANCE provides core analytical characterization instrumentation resources in a collaborative environment, with 24/7 open-access for research and education, for the NU community and beyond. Within NUANCE, the Micro/Nano Fabrication Facility (NUFAB) is a shared user facility that supports a broad range of nanoscale science and technology projects, specializing in nanoscale analysis and characterization, and providing the whole range of nanofabrication equipment and technical expertise to Northwestern as well as external academic and industrial researchers. Our state-of-the-art equipment is located in a 6000 square-foot class-100 clean room with laminar airflow. The attached technical staff offices and a meeting/conference room with windows looking into the clean room provide easy accessibility.

Supporting research in all areas of science, engineering, medicine, and interdisciplinary fields, NUFAB is a growing facility with a capability to accommodate research in new directions. 


Research Highlight

Resettable Skin Interfaced Microfluidic Sweat Collection Devices with Chemesthetic Hydration Feedback

John Ciraldo, NUFAB Research Associate, has been working on technology that offers a simple and cost-effective approach to monitoring fluid loss, replacing other active measuring devices. Using traditional microfabrication techniques, a flexible and resettable patch demonstrated that it can gather information about loss of fluids via sweat. Through use of an epifluidic channel, sweat is collected from the user, which is used to provide information about loss of fluids through the sweating mechanism. Sweat accumulation within the channel can be observed via reversible visual indicators. After hydrating, the user may manually reset the sensor at any time via an elastomeric pinch valve and elastomeric suction pump system. If the channel is filled, a chemesthetic agent is released, alerting the user to a dangerous loss of fluids and therefore the need to rehydrate.

ciraldo research John Ciraldo

 “I’m interested in applying advanced deposition and dry etch techniques to aid in developing new technologies at the micro and nano scales.” 
– John Ciraldo, NUFAB Research Associate
Figure caption: Resettable epifluidic sweat patch with chemesthetic feedback.  a. Exploded view of a resettable epifluidic sweat collection device with chemesthetic feedback. b. The device is comprised of systems for collecting sweat, purging collected sweat, and chemesthetic ejection. c. Collected sweat can be manually purged via an elastomeric pinch valve (ESP) and elastomeric suction pump (ESP) system. Scale bar: 2 mm. d. At levels of filling beyond a certain volume, the sweat initiates the ejection of a chemesthetic agent for sensory feedback to the user. Optical micrograph of the effervescent pump for ejecting the chemesthetic agent. The shunt channel vents air pressure as sweat fills the device. Scale bar: 2 mm. e. Optical micrograph of the effervescent pump, which consists of a chamber, fluid control pillars, and a water-activated foaming agent comprised of citric acid, sodium bicarbonate, and surfactant. Scale bar: 1 mm. f. Image of the device bonded to the skin on the back of the hand. Scale bar: 1 cm. g. Schematic flow of device operation. C.A. = chemesthetic agent.

Research Highlight

Equipment and facility predictive maintenance system with artificial intelligence

With the continued advancement of sensor technology, equipment manufacturers are integrating more sensors into the systems to improve their reliability. Recording and interpreting the sensor readings are key when it comes to equipment maintenance and trouble shooting.  However, the sensor data is not easily accessible and usually can only be understood by well-trained technicians. Based on years of equipment/facility maintenance experience, artificial intelligence and cloud technology, Ying Jia NUFAB Research Associate, has developed a central facility management system to store, display and analyze the sensor data in real time. Additionally, this system also evaluates the equipment’s condition, predicts the future trends, and recommends maintenance!

Currently, over one hundred sensors of eight cleanroom capital equipment are monitored by the system at the same time.  NUFAB equipment managers can use this system to 1) check equipment parameters over a certain time range, for example, the chamber base vacuum over last year, 2) select individual process and check the time dependent parameters, for example, the plasma power in a deposition process, 3) predict equipment maintenance with machine learning models. The system has been deployed and can be accessed by facility managers anytime and anywhere.


Ying Jia“ I'm interested in applying mature technologies in my professional area to solve the previously unsolvable problems”
Ying Jia, NUFAB Research Associate


Figure caption: The workflow of the predictive maintenance

User Research Highlight

Skin-interfaced Biosensors for Advanced Wireless Physiological Monitoring in Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive-Care Units

Standard clinical care in neonatal and pediatric intensive-care units (NICUs and PICUs, respectively) involves continuous monitoring of vital signs with hard-wired devices that adhere to the skin and, in certain instances, can involve catheter-based pressure sensors inserted into the arteries. These systems entail risks of causing iatrogenic skin injuries, complicating clinical care and impeding skin-to-skin contact between parent and child. Using microfabrication techniques, researchers developed a soft, skin-like electronic system to address these clinical needs. It not only offers measurement equivalency to existing clinical standards for heart rate, respiration rate, temperature and blood oxygenation, but also provides a range of important additional features. These new modalities include tracking movements and body orientation, quantifying the physiological benefits of skin-to-skin care, capturing acoustic signatures of cardiac activity, recording vocal biomarkers associated with tonality and temporal characteristics of crying and monitoring a reliable surrogate for systolic blood pressure.

Figure caption: a: Schematic diagram and exploded-view illustration of a device with a modular primary battery. The main body consists of buckled serpentine interconnects between islands of electrical components contained within a soft, elastomeric enclosure. The battery interfaces to the system via reversible magnetic coupling. Thin conductive silicone pads establish electrical connections between measurement electrodes and a hydrogel interface to the skin. LMS, low-modulus silicone; PCB, printed circuit board
b: Illustration of a detachable wireless power-collecting system. 
c: Illustration of a powering option that involves an integrated, wirelessly rechargeable battery. This option is a completely sealed waterproof system that uses a different top-layer encapsulation, without the magnets.
 d: Photographs of a chest unit with an embedded battery. e-g: Photographs of a representative chest unit during stretching (e), twisting (f) and bending (g)

Reference: H.U. Chung, A.Y. Rwei, A. Hourlier-Fargette, S. Xu, K.H. Lee, E.C. Dunne, Z. Xie, C. Liu, A. Carlini, D.H. Kim, D. Ryu, E. Kulikova, J. Cao, I.C. Odland, K.B. Fields, B. Hopkins, A. Banks, C. Ogle, D. Grande, J.B. Park, J. Kim, M. Irie, H. Jang, J.H. Lee, Y. Park, J. Kim, H.H. Jo, H. Hahm, R. Avila, Y. Xu, M. Namkoong, J.W. Kwak, E. Suen, M.A. Paulus, R.J. Kim, B.V. Parsons, K.A. Human, S.S. Kim, M. Patel, W. Reuther, H.S. Kim, S.H. Lee, J.D. Leedle, Y. Yun, S. Rigali, T. Son, I. Jung, H. Arafa, V.R. Soundararajan, A. Ollech, A. Shukla, A. Bradley, M. Schau, C.M. Rand, L.E. Marsillio, Z.L. Harris, Y. Huang, A. Hamvas, A.S. Paller, D.E. Weese-Mayer, J.Y. Lee and J.A. Rogers. "Skin-interfaced Biosensors for Advanced Wireless Physiological Monitoring in Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive-Care Units", Nature Medicine 26, 418-429 (2020).