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Small Scale Research Molecular Beam Epitaxy for Material Development


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Materials/Processes

OBJECTIVE: To produce a lower cost molecular beam epitaxy machine and transfer chamber that will allow significant materials development and dissimilar materials integration prior to material down selection in a development scheme.

DESCRIPTION: Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) has become a standard technique for producing high quality material reproducibly for electronic and optical devices. Current trends in device development often require merging properties from multiple material systems to achieve the desired characteristics. Often these material combinations cannot be made in the same chamber due to incompatibilities in their growth. Currently, the cost of material development using MBE is prohibitively high, costing well over a million dollars for a new machine. The objective of this project is to reduce cost and risk in future materials research programs using MBE.

Research aimed at providing future capabilities for AF systems requires studies of different material systems to determine the best solution and growth studies to optimize the material properties beyond its existing state. The initial system cost as well as operation costs often limits the amount of research being performed by MBE. By reducing the cost associated with MBE, more material systems can be studied. Early in research it is difficult to determine the ultimate material for an application since many factors come to play in this choice. Without an appropriate level of research, an accurate determination between the many proposed solutions is not possible. Gaining the ability to fund more research should not only allow more researchers to participate in a material choice but also allow more material options to be explored for a potential solution. This increased level of research will allow a better, more informed decision. This topic therefore not only reduces the cost per machine but also reduces the risk of picking a solution before the various factors have been evaluated.

Current research versions of MBE machines cost on the order of $1M for a system and much more for large production systems. This situation is aggravated when one considers integration of various materials each requiring a different MBE system to avoid cross contamination. For Multi-chamber systems the combined cost is the cost per chamber plus the transfer arrangement. The large cost of these systems is the major cause prohibiting more material systems to be investigated by MBE. In this SBIR topic, the goal is to produce a quality MBE machine which is significantly cheaper (~$250K) and smaller to perform fundamental materials research using similar effusion cell technologies as used on larger scale machines. Reducing the machine size has several advantages for a materials research environment. Material usage, power requirements, liquid nitrogen (LN2) usage, and required laboratory space will all be reduced. The change in area in scaling from a 3” or larger MBE environment to 1” would suggest by nearly an order of magnitude reduction in these costs. Keeping similar cell technologies should allow a more direct path for scale up to larger systems. In addition, a lower cost of small research MBE machines should stimulate the use of MBE for research aimed at producing new and novel material combinations. Even though a high percentage of these research efforts will not necessarily transfer to larger scale environments, this fundamental research will provide more opportunities for larger research and production style machines. In the production environment, the initial machine cost and operation cost is not nearly so prohibitive and will allow the scale-up of the technology developed on a small scale research machine that has produced the high quality material needed.

PHASE I: Determine production and operation cost of a small 1” MBE with specifications similar to production machines highlighting difference in cost from standard systems. Evaluate the feasibility of the small research MBE concept for at least III-V, Oxides, and II-VI systems. Minimize individual system footprint while making a cluster configuration for heterogeneous integration possible.

PHASE II: The small scale MBE machine will be produced as well as the chamber allowing the merging of various MBE systems together to demonstrate heterogeneous growth capability. The system performance will be validated and used in an agreed upon research effort. The growth will demonstrate the small scale machine can produce the high quality and uniformity seen in production system. The system will then be transferred to AFRL/RX for additional appropriate sample growths.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: The newly developed small scale MBE machine will be developed and placed on market. This strategy will be used in future material growth developments to keep cost down in the development of new MBE growth capabilities.


    • M. Henini (ed.), Molecular Beam Epitaxy: From Research to Mass Production (Elsevier, Oxford, UK 2013).


    • Robin F. C. Farrow (ed.) Molecular Bea Epitaxy: Applications to Key Material (Elsevier, Oxford 1995).


    • Gertjan Koster, M Huijben, Guus Rijnders (eds.) Epitaxial Growth of Complex Metal Oxides: Techniques, Properties and Applications (Elsevier, Oxford 2015).



KEYWORDS: Molecular beam epitaxy, epitaxial growth, heterogeneous integration, electronics, optoelectronics, cost reduction

  • TPOC-1: Kurt Eyink
  • Phone: 937-656-5710
  • Email:
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