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Prof. Joost Frenken (director of the ARCNL) has been appointed professor of Nanoscale Surface Physics at both VU University Amsterdam (VU) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

Prof Joost Frenken
Photo: Dirk Gillissen

Surfaces and interfaces on the nanometre scale

Nanoscale surface physics is concerned with the physics (and chemistry) of the surfaces of and interfaces between materials, all the way down to the nanometre scale of atoms and molecules. The surfaces and interfaces of materials play an important role in many phenomena of everyday life and in many practical applications, due to the fact that the behaviour of the outermost atoms of a material is often different from that of the atoms in the interior.

Using highly sensitive instruments, such as self-built scanning tunnelling microscopes, Frenken is investigating fundamental phenomena relevant to the lithography technology employed in the semiconductor industry. For example, he is tracking the formation of interfaces between different materials atom by atom as well as the spontaneous build-up of new materials with the final thickness of precisely one atom. Frenken is also studying the fundamental origin of the unpleasant occurrence of friction and exploring new strategies for getting rid of friction almost entirely.

ARCNL director

Since 1 January 2014, Frenken has been the director of the Advanced Research Center for Nanolithography (ARCNL), a public-private partnership between the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter, the UvA, VU, and the semiconductor equipment manufacturer ASML. Frenken combines this directorship with his scientific role as head of the Nanolayers research group at the ARCNL, which focuses on experiments involving surfaces, interfaces and ultrathin layers.


Frenken will be teaching several elective courses within the Physics MSc curriculum. In addition, he will be supervising Bachelor’s and Master’s students’ internships and research being conducted by PhD students in his Nanolayers group.


Frenken graduated from the University of Amsterdam in 1982 and performed his PhD research at AMOLF under the supervision of Friso van der Veen and Frans Saris (Utrecht University, 1986). He subsequently did postdoctoral research as an Alexander-von-Humboldt Fellow at the Max-Planck-Institut für Strömungsforschung in Göttingen (Germany). After a short period at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights (NY, USA) in 1988, Frenken returned to AMOLF as a C. and C. Huygens Fellow and started his own research group.

In 1994 Frenken was named professor by special appointment at Leiden University and two years later moved to Leiden as a regular (full) professor. Transferring his work from Amsterdam to Leiden over a period of around three years, his research developed into a broad programme on surfaces, interfaces and thin materials. Frenken will continue to hold a zero-hours appointment as professor in Leiden until the last of his PhD students there have finished their research and obtained their doctorates.

The last ten years of Frenken’s research in Leiden have seen the valorisation component of his work grow significantly, as borne out by close collaborations with industry. From 2007 to 2013, Frenken was the scientific director of the SmartMix Nano-Imaging under Industrial Conditions (NIMIC) project, in which the commercial sector played a major role. He was also the director of one of the strongly valorisation-oriented NanoNextNL programmes and is the co-founder (and shareholder) of two spin-off companies: one specialising in scientific instrumentation (Leiden Probe Microscopy BV) and the other in large-scale production of high-quality graphene (Applied Nanolayers BV).

Frenken’s wide-ranging experience serves him well in his position as director of the ARCNL, which places a major focus on the valorisation of fundamental research and the connection between the ARCNL and ASML.