Periodic Reporting for period 3 - NFFA-Europe (NANOSCIENCE FOUNDRIES AND FINE ANALYSIS - EUROPE)
Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2021-02-28
NFFA-Europe contributes to enhance the European competitiveness in nanoscience and nanotechnology. This is accomplished via the effective integration of competencies and research practices of 20 leading academic and governmental research organisations, setting the stage for a truly interoperable open access infrastructure with an overarching information and data management repository platform, upscaling the return from existing resources, training young researchers, and optimising the methodological and instrumental upgrade. In 4 years of uninterrupted delivery of user services, NFFA-Europe has achieved and substantially exceeded all its goals and objectives. The distributed facility of 19 nano foundry laboratories co-located with ALSFs has constantly upgraded the online catalogue of advanced tools and methods for nanoscience and delivered 15 calls for access, that attracted nearly 500 user proposals managed though the Single Entry Point (SEP). The Technical Liaison Network (TLNet) has optimised the access workflow and assessed the proposals' technical feasibility. An external independent Access Review Panel guarantees the proposals' science excellence necessary for ground-breaking results. The JRAs have improved access to the facilities by upgrading or prompting novel services to the users. The effective coordination of the project and infrastructure required a substantial deviation for extra effort in management and administration. The scientific and industrial usage have led to 81 peer-reviewed publications insofar. The constant monitoring of the TA programme has led to an internal midterm review and fine-tuning to meet the users' needs, resulting in an optimal redistribution of resources and tasks among the access providers. Data Management was a key topic of the project with the ambitious goal to create the first data and metadata repository for nanoscience. Research at NFFA-Europe has contributed to PhD and Master theses, NFFA Summer Schools were participated by a broad international group of young scientists, and nanosafety issues were investigated. The networking activities built a strong branding image for NFFA. Key success factors were the SEP, the TLNet, and the IDRP metadata set fostering the FAIR data policy. NFFA-Europe plays a vital role in the landscape of RIs and has set the stage for the subsequent PILOT phase and long-term scope.
Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far
The NFFA-Europe nanolabs, mostly co-located with ALSFs, provide over 80 techniques (http://NFFA-Europe.nffa.eu/offer) in six installations. The SEP (http://NFFA-Europe.nffa.eu/new-application) gives access to the catalogue and the user guide (http://NFFA-Europe.nffa.eu/apply/). The TLNet was established to support users since the proposal stage, assessing the feasibility of the proposed research and assigning the optimal access. The Access Review Panel (ARP) ranked the scientific merit of proposals after each call. Contribution for travel and subsistence was granted within limits (http://NFFA-Europe.nffa.eu/apply/#TS). Fifteen calls with an average of 33 proposals/call and 65% success rate were delivered. The TLNet is the backbone of NFFA-Europe, providing skills and technical information across the multi-site RI: an ICT platform shares and updates information on all the technical aspects of user proposals, updates the SEP catalogue, and monitors the availability of each instrument. The JRAs have made excellent science while implementing prototypes and new facilities for TAs. JRAs in NFFA-Europe and TLNet have effectively glued together the partner institutions, shaping a persistent collaborating/competing ensemble of top European research organizations with a structuring effect, allowing for unique specializations as well as concurrent capacity building also for open data services: the first Information and Data Management Repository Platform (IDRP) for nanoscience comprising metadata standards was developed by NA and JRA3. NFFA was announced in more than 200 research conferences. Four issues of a Newsletter and a full-page advertisement on Physics World Focus on Nanotechnology of the IoP were published. Summer schools were held at UAB (Barcelona, July 2016) and at CNR-IOM and Elettra (Trieste, July 2018). The Covid-19 pandemic impacted the late development of the project by hampering the access of users, who could no longer travel. NFFA-Europe daily updated the state of play of its services in 2020, offering remote access with no interruptions and in-presence access when possible. Remote mail-in access was standard in call 15, which implied extra staff effort. In numerical terms, about 4200 UoA have been assigned (a deviation of +27% with respect to the original Grant Agreement) but, due to the pandemics, only about 3800 UoAs were completed. The resulting overall deviation is +15%. All risks were mitigated and the overall delivery of service and results significantly exceeded the original engagement. The management of the resources has been effective adapting to the users’ needs as well as to the providers’ own dynamics. All the KPIs of the project have been met or exceeded. The promotion was effective as demonstrated by the number of proposals and by the high frequentation on our website.
Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)
The publications represent research progress from fundamental properties of nano-objects (nanofibers, nanorods, nanowires, nanoparticles, quantum wells…), 2D materials and thin films to energy related applications, advanced devices, processing; several were ranked as highlights. Within this diversity, novel 2D materials and resist materials for higher resolution lithography in nanoelectronics are examples of frontier research. The Industrial Liaison Network (ILNet) offered to industry the added value of a multi-platform approach. More than 12% of applications were driven by industry. The JRAs have implemented prototypes that were added to the technical offer. A working data and metadata infrastructure (IDRP) was built and made available online to the users, including the administrative metadata relevant to the proposals. This development represents a successful evidence of the steps required to ease data interoperability and data reusability in a highly fragmented and complex scientific community like the nanoscience one. In JRA1, a Fast-scan module, optimized for use with STM (D6.1) and proved to be applicable also to AFM (D6.2) is now mature enough for commercial exploitation, with first licensing contracts for the background patent and contacts from perspective customers. Combining high-resolution imaging in X-ray microscopy and diffractive X-ray lenses by means of line-doubling (D6.3 D6.6 D6.7) Fresnel zone plates with a spatial resolution of 18 nm were commissioned and tested. Controlled and reproducible fabrication of structures has been pushed to structural sizes below 10 nm in JRA2. Upgrades of pump-probe setups and theory tools for ultrafast science have been put in place for users in JRA4, and modular nano-transfer routines to efficiently identify the nano-region of interest with nm precision, have been developed and tested in JRA5. The NA helped to create a positive distributed infrastructure dynamics and the training actions contributed to mature the next generation of researchers in nanoscience.