Molecular Foundry at LBNL

Jaideep Cherukuri
Mar 13 · 8 min read

A heavenly match for Engineers

Image is taken from Flickr

What a beautiful place this is, right on the edge of a hilltop and astonishing views all around. Isn’t it a dream come true for Research enthusiasts to pursue cutting edge research in such an amazing laboratory, with the fresh breeze hitting you as soon as you get out.

Oh but wait! Are you a Techie/Business Enthusiast? Well then, my friend don’t get too excited by seeing this lucrative atmosphere. People inside this building eat, play and sleep with atoms!!!

Well, this was my immediate reaction when Rick Rasmussen(our course Instructor) announced that we’d be going to Molecular Foundry on March 5th. I started to recollect my scary high school memories and realized one of the reasons why I’m an engineer is that chemistry creeps me out. Well but still I was surprisingly excited to visit this place just because I wanted to get into the Berkeley Lab bus and explore what’s there at the top inside that secured fencing. More importantly, I used to wonder if there were any conspiracy projects being carried out!

Finally, the day arrived and our visit to the Molecular Foundry( A national collaboration hub of staff and outside users doing research on cutting edge nanoscale science at Berkeley Lab) had been scheduled to kick off at 1 pm in the afternoon.


So, I had to mentally prepare my brain to be capable of grasping tremendous scientific knowledge in those 2 valuable hours. Well, the best solution for that was to visit the Berkeley marina to relax my brain cells before they’re too pressurized.

Disclaimer:- ” Irrelevant to the trip”! But yeah worth mentioning this place, as it’s the most preferred spot for students of UC Berkeley to enjoy a fantastic sunrise and have a great kickstart to any given day. I loved watching this beautifully carved sculpture that reflects the culture and yeah those turkeys were pretty cute!

The Berkeley Marina
The Berkeley Marina
Berkeley Marina( Images were taken from my camera)

Well, Soon it was afternoon and all of us gathered at SCET center located in Cal Memorial Stadium to begin our field trip. We kicked off from the stadium at around 1:30 pm and started walking towards the bus stop. We had a lovely stroll around the gardens and an esthetic atmosphere. All of a sudden Rick started to point out at the ground. And I began to wonder why was he pointing towards dried leaves!

Images were taken from my camera

Only when I went closer by, I realized it was the famous grave of “Igor Fetch” which was the house dog and official mascot of Bowlesmen. The residents who embraced the legacy of Bowles Hall and called themselves Bowlesmen. It was Labrador-beagle-husky mix. Fetch was registered for a class under the category K-9. His keeper would sign his name and take his exams. Igor Fetch also earned his degree in sociology from UC Berkeley. His diploma was framed and also hung in the lobby. Finally, we reached the bus stop.

Berkeley Lab Transit

Finally, after a long await the shuttle paved its way towards us and I could get into the vehicle I mostly eyed on; every single time it passed by my side. I always wished to get into it and go to the top. And soon we reached the Molecular Foundry, after a slight confusion in between regarding which stop to get down.

As soon as we reached there, I was just awestruck by the views all around the place. Being able to watch the view of Sather Gate aligned with the bay at the back was simply amazing.

Images Taken from my Camera

Soon we were introduced to Brandon Brough, Deputy Director of the Molecular Foundry at Berkeley Lab. He was assigned as our guide during this trip. As Molecular Foundry was a nanoscience focused user facility, he started his talk introducing whats nanoscience.

“ It’s one billionth science. So in other words, if it’s small, we’re interested. And so that means if you’re on the chemistry side of the house, we’re looking at how to make materials atom by atom, molecule by molecule with emergent properties, interesting features and the thing itself is certainly small. If you’re on the engineering side, a lot of times it’s making devices that take advantage of some of those emergent properties on the NSA.

I really loved the way he carried out the explanation. It was simple and crisp; easily understandable by any individual coming from any background. Unlike those regular bookish definitions filled up with Jargon!

I was not very much interested in this field build once Brandon started to walkthrough nanoscience I realized in this rapidly growing world, how essential and tedious it is to be able to engineer something that’s small, that oftentimes is portable, should be cheaper to make and oftentimes, you know, it should have lower power requirements. There’s a lot of interesting design motivations to make things small. But really one of the most interesting things is taking advantage of emerging properties that only exist on the nanoscale.

Brandon was from a Mechanical Engineering background and he too was quite scared of chemistry, until one day where he attended professor C.J. Kimmy’s class on nanoscience in grad school. And that’s when he felt he got it wrong before and realized how exciting it was as an engineer to go in and try to find ways to take advantage of these munchy properties.

He then carried out a fun experiment to depict the concept of nanoparticles more clearly and related it to a technology that a thousand years ago, alchemists in France used to make the rose-colored glass. They didn’t know what they’re doing and this was discovered about 10 years ago. They analyzed the glass, but it’s basically the nanoparticles because of their size. They interact with light, different points of light, visible ways, 400, 700 centimeters. 20-nanometer nanoparticles. And so there’s a bunch of advanced physics that I couldn’t really grasp.

We then got to know about user facilities that are present all around the country which usually consists of things which are too big, too expensive for any group, or a small group of professors to control. Supercomputer being one of those. So Berkeley Lab roughly has the best supercomputer amongst all other user facilities in the U.S. It also has the most productive X-ray light source in the world, which we could probably see in our next field trip to ALS Berkeley.

Brandon then walked us through different segments of the Lab (Synthesis, Fabrication, Theory, Physical Computing, etc.), and we also got to know about different high-end pieces of equipment which they have on each floor.

Images were taken from my camera

Out of all the pieces of equipment and facilities on each floor, I personally loved the cleanroom because that’s where the core building blocks of every computer(i.e chips, microprocessors) are built. And yeah, the detailed description which Brandon gave to explain this was just phenomenal.

“ In a cubic foot, there are about 10 million little things recorded. There are different cleanrooms categorized as class 1000,100,10 and 1. In a class 1000 cleanroom, we have got cleaned it up to the point where every cubic foot has less than 1000 particles in a class. Each class has a specific use case, class 1 being the rarest and accessible by only the private processor giants in the world like Intel”.

We then went down to the National Center for Electron Microscopy which has the most powerful microscope in the world. Oh and yeah the next time I hang around with nerdy friends! I’m definitely gonna get brownie points for bragging about my visit to this place and also being able to see one of the world’s best microscope.

Images were taken from my camera

These images depicted above are the image of atoms . How are they produced? Well, using the million electron microscope where million electron microscope basically took electrons and fired them as fast as they could because the faster they go, the smaller the wavelength, the smaller the wavelength about the resolution. And they just absolutely blew apart this material. It’s silicon Nitride on the left corner, but they’ve got this beautiful picture. And if you look you see these hexagons made up of six dots. Those dots are columns of silicon. This is the first time that it was proclaimed that we could see atoms and it was done here. This represents the best in the world in 1980.

Things were going pretty great so far. We were continuously being introduced to a lot of theories, insights, facts, achievements, concepts, use cases, and a lot more.


But after this point, when Brandon kept talking about aberration, electric field effect on the lens, filibuster threat conductivity, SCMP scanning, etc. My brain just said, Dude, I’m done for today! After which I paid very minimal attention.

And finally, when we were about to leave, I saw these cute little Turkeys again!

All in all, this was a fun-filled and also knowledge-focused trip. I almost loved every bit of it but I just felt it was too much of information being constantly delivered by a single person throughout the trip. I felt there could have been a few interactive activities, or maybe hands-on experience using certain equipment if that was allowed or maybe even interactions with other individuals of the laboratory, who could have shared their experiences working there or about that culture in that place. Brandon from his side has done a fabulous job guiding us through every single moment in the laboratory. I can say, My perception of nanoscience has definitely changed after this field trip. I started to find it quite interesting and immediately once I got back home, I explored certain things that popped up in my mind during the trip. That being said “I still hate CHEMISTRY” though!

In the coming days, I’m excited to go to the Advanced Light Source and various places in Silicon Valley but I’m equally worried if these trips might get canceled considering the current outbreak scenario. I wish that wouldn’t happen and we get to be a part of many more amazing trips like these during our stay at Berkeley.

Curated by -Jaideep Cherukuri and signing off in our very own style “Go Bears!”

Cal Mascot ( Credits:

Jaideep Cherukuri

Written by

19 years old Product Enthusiast currently pursuing Technology Entrepreneurship at University of California Berkeley.

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