IBM Goes for World Record in "Noise-Free" Labs

Nearly imperceptible changes for either man or machine in temperature, movement and noise can be catastrophic for executing accurate measurements on the nanoscale.

For this reason, IBM’s new Nanotechnology Center at its Zurich, Switzerland research campus has devoted approximately 10% of the new facility’s $60 million overall cost to constructing six rooms for different microscopy tools. Not only are the labs the most isolated from noise and movement of any other similar labs in the world, but have also gone beyond the capabilities of the most sensitive detection equipment currently available to detect either movement or noise.

This week I had the opportunity to tour IBM’s still unfinished Nanotechnology Center (they expect to have the facility operational by the first half of 2011) and get a look into their new “Noise-free”  labs , in which they are planning to get their first microscopy tool by the first quarter of 2011.

When deciding to go out for a record like the most “noise-free” lab in the world, they sure didn’t make it easy for themselves with the location. While the location does keep the Nanotechnology Center on the same campus of the research facility that IBM opened back in 1956, it is less than 200 meters from a heavy rail track and it would seem by my own estimates to be a good deal closer than that to a four-lane highway.

The benchmark for the IBM scientists who designed and engineered these labs from scratch was the NIST laboratories. Now the IBM researcher who was instrumental in the design, engineering and overseeing of the construction of these facilities, Dr. Emanuel Lörtscher, and who gave the assembled European journalists a presentation on the facilities, said that the NIST facilities they were informally competing against were located in a more remote location, making IBM's achievement all the more remarkable.

In any case, what the IBM team has accomplished is significant. Every conceivable detail was addressed. For instance, rather than simply using steel-reinforced concrete a special plastic was used as the rebar. 

As mentioned, the design and engineering of this facility was done in-house at IBM Zurich, and since one of the stated goals of IBM is to deliver an additional $20 billion in revenue by 2015 and bring its earnings per share to $20 by the same year from its current level of $10 EPS, I thought I would ask as an aside whether they were considering selling this developed design and engineering skill as a service, the response I got was, “We’re considering it.”



IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
Rachel Courtland
Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
New York, NY