Norwegian roadmap for Research Infrastructure

Nanotechnology and advanced materials

Nanotechnology encompasses studies of nanoscale phenomena and ways of controlling and manipulating these phenomena. The technology can thus contribute to innovation in most areas of society. This technology area extends beyond nanoscience and nanotechnology to include microtechnology and advanced materials.

Research objectives

Research activities in nanotechnology, microtechnology and advanced materials are a priority area of the Government's Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028 (Norwegian content) (Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019)) under the rubric of enabling and industrial technologies. The national R&D strategy on nanotechnology stipulates that these activities are to boost Norwegian industrial development and be of benefit to society. Nanotechnology, microtechnology and advanced materials are to enhance competitiveness in thematic areas such as energy, the environment, oceans, and food and health without leading to undesirable effects on health, the environment and society.

Research infrastructure is crucial to research in this field. The needs range widely from cleanroom laboratories to a variety of advanced equipment for producing, characterising and integrating materials and systems.

The Research Council has made targeted efforts in nanotechnology, microtechnology and advanced materials for a long time. This is covered by the Portfolio Board for Enabling Technologies. We also finance research in which these technologies are applied for different reasons, including under the Portfolio Board for Energy, Transport and Low Emissions; the Portfolio Board for Industry and Services; and the Portfolio Board for Natural Sciences and Technologies.

Existing research infrastructure

Nationally, there are a number of laboratories whose instrumentation and areas of application are to some extent specialised. Some of the laboratories operate in a complementary fashion and provide access to users from both academia and industry.

The Norwegian Micro- and Nanofabrication Facility (NorFab) is a national infrastructure with cleanrooms and instrumentation for nano- and microtechnology processing and characterisation. NorFab has three nodes: the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) NanoLab in Trondheim, the microtechnology and nanotechnology laboratories SINTEF MiNaLab/University of Oslo MiNaLab and the University of Southeast Norway’s microsystems technology laboratory (MST-Lab) in Horten. These nodes have entered into binding collaboration and cover a wide variety of nanotechnology, microtechnology and advanced materials applications while making state-of-the-art laboratories accessible to users from universities, university colleges and research institutes, as well as from business and industry.

The University of Bergen has a local cleanroom and laboratory for nanostructuring where instrumentation is in place for a variety of applications, including nanoscale biological systems. At SINTEF, there are also laboratories for nano-characterisation, materials characterisation and surface characterisation, including a national platform for surface characterisation (such as X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and secondary ion mass spectrometry) and nuclear magnetic resonance.

The Norwegian Centre for Transmission Electron Microscopy (NORTEM) is a national centre operated cooperatively by SINTEF, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the University of Oslo. It has two nodes (in Trondheim and Oslo) with a high-resolution transmission electron microscope (TEM) on each site in addition to other microscopes. The techniques available at each node complement those employed at the other nodes. NORTEM is of great importance to several Centres for Research-based Innovation, including SFI Metal Production and CASA – Centre for Advanced Structural Analysis.

The Norwegian Centre for X-ray Diffraction, Scattering and Imaging (RECX) is a national platform located at the University of Oslo and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. This platform helps elevate Norwegian expertise in advanced radiological techniques and the use of synchrotron and neutron scattering facilities.

Some laboratories that are highly relevant to nanotechnology, microtechnology and advanced materials are also well known for practical applications. One is the Norwegian Laboratory for Silicon-based Solar Cell Technology (NSST), which covers the entire value chain from basic research to final production of solar cells. The Centres for Environment-friendly Energy Research (FME) working with solar energy have facilitated the establishment of effective collaboration and division of tasks between research stakeholders in this field. The Norwegian Laboratory for Mineral and Materials Characterisation (MiMaC) is a national infrastructure for characterising the structures and chemical properties of minerals, metals and advanced nanomaterials, and could become very important to the minerals and metals industry in Norway.

In some cases, establishing and operating infrastructures requires international cooperation, for instance synchrotron and neutron scattering facilities. NcNeutron is a Norwegian centre for neutron-based research. After the research reactor JEEP II at the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) was discontinued in 2019, it is now being considered whether the activities and equipment can be moved to an installation abroad, enabling NcNeutron to provide Norwegian users the services planned for JEEP II. NcNeutron is maintaining its collaboration with the European Spallation Source (ESS), an ESFRI project, and will continue to build expertise in Norway’s neutron research community while improving ESS utilisation. The Swiss-Norwegian Beamlines (SNBL) at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble is a synchrotron facility for advanced nanotechnology and materials research, and Norway’s ESRF membership gives it access to the beamlines.

Need for new infrastructure, upgrades and/or coordination

There is a need for long-term, continual upgrading and renewal of existing research infrastructures in addition to new investments to keep step with technological development and incorporate new research areas.

Infrastructure investments are a crucial aspect of enabling Norwegian research groups to participate and succeed in international research cooperation while providing Norwegian industry with the kinds of laboratory facilities it needs. Resource constraints limit the number of large-scale state-of-the-art nanotechnology laboratories in Norway. NorFab and NORTEM are examples of costly infrastructure made possible because key institutions committed themselves to long-term cooperation on start-up activities and operations. Major new investments will require greater national coordination of priorities, including across disciplines. In other countries, this type of coordination and cooperation has for instance been implemented in advanced electron microscopy, where life sciences and materials research are more closely linked via investments in CryoEM and big data.

As of 2020, NorFab is the only infrastructure able to manage the complete value chain from basic production of specific materials until the production of prototypes within this area of technology. Increased utilisation of research results, including by seeing the results through to verification and demonstration in practice, will be of great importance to society and the green transition, and increase the effect of public investments in research for future innovation and value creation. New investments may be relevant within a number of areas, such as microtechnology and nanotechnology focusing on micro-electronic systems, electronic construction methods including packet technology and systems integration for ultrasound, an area where Norwegian industry is at the international forefront. Other relevant fields are microfluidics and studies of nano- and micro-scale currents in systems, or investments in specific material areas, such as Piezoelectric materials, nanocellulose, materials for quantum technology, surfaces with tailored properties, nanosafety and methods/processes for producing nanomaterials. There is a major need for investments and it is becoming increasingly important to have prioritisation processes in place to ensure that new investments adequately address cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary needs.

Closure of national and regional neutron sources, such as JEEP II may create a need to establish national/Nordic neutron facilities in addition to ESS. Capacity at ESS is limited and it typically requires test experiments to be performed at other smaller neutron facilities before access is granted.

National utilisation of, and access to, international infrastructure

Some Norwegian synchrotron users satisfy their synchrotron radiation access needs through the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the Swiss-Norwegian Beamlines (SNBL). After SNBL has been upgraded, it can facilitate studies that allow experiments using the most advanced beamlines at ESRF. Many other groups and areas of research require access to synchrotron and X-ray free-electron laser (X-FEL) facilities that are complementary to and, to some extent, competitive with what is available at the ESRF. Norwegian research groups therefore have interests in the new MAX IV synchrotron facility in Sweden.

Norway is participating in the construction of the world’s largest neutron microscope, the European Spallation Source (ESS), in Lund, Sweden. Neutron scattering is a technique that complements synchrotron radiation. The first neutrons are expected to be produced in 2022 and full operation is planned in the course of 2025. NcNeutron is developing strategies in dialogue with the Research Council to continue cooperation with ESS and strengthen the expertise of Norwegian research groups in the use of neutron radiation.

Interface with other areas

Nanotechnology, microtechnology and advanced materials cover a broad spectrum of applications within fields such as environmentally friendly energy, climate and the environment, bioresources and life sciences and health. This means that other infrastructures with a narrower focus, such as battery technology, fuel cells, low-emission buildings and advanced production processes, can also play a significant role in this area of technology.

NorLHC is an ongoing infrastructure project that invests in sensor, trigger and computational systems for upgrading the detectors in ATLAS and ALICE experiments conducted by CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) used in High Luminosity LHC (Large Hydron Collider). Access to technology expertise through CERN also provides great potential for national business development, for instance in the area of medical instrumentation.

RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURES RELATED TO NANOTECHNOLOGY AND ADVANCED MATERIALS

Project

Status

MiMaC – Norwegian Laboratory for Mineral and Materials Characterisation

Under establishment/in operation

NcNeutron – Norwegian Center for Neutron Research

Under establishment/in operation

NorFab – Norwegian Micro- and Nanofabrication Facilities

Under establishment/in operation

NORTEM – The Norwegian Centre for Transmission Electron Microscopy*

Funding period completed/in operation

OTHER RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURES ON THE ROADMAP RELEVANT TO NANOTECHNOLOGY AND ADVANCED MATERIALS

Project

Status

E-INFRA ved UNINETT Sigma 2 – a national e-Infrastrucure for science

Under establishment/in operation

ESS-Lund – European Spallation Source

ESFRI Landmark

NSST – Norwegian laboratory for silicon-based solar cell technology

Under establishment/in operation

* Infrastructures where the project period with Research Council funding has been concluded, or was scheduled to be concluded in 2019, do not have a separate project description on the roadmap. You will instead find a reference to the infrastructure's website or the Research Council's project bank.