Urs Staufer


Co-Investigator, Atomic Force Microscope, Soil Analysis,
University of Neuchatel



Urs Staufer received his diploma in experimental physics University of Basel, Switzerland, in 1986. In his Ph.D. thesis, he explored the fabrication of nanometer scale structure by means of a scanning tunneling microscope. He got his degree from the Institute of Physics at U. of Basel in spring 1990.

In 1990, he joined the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, USA as a post doc for working on a microfabricated electron column, a device for increasing the throughput in electron-beam lithography. He went back to Basel, where he formed his own research team with a project on low-energy micro-electron columns. From 1993 to 1995, he stayed at the IBM Rüschlikon Research Laboratory, Switzerland, for a joined project on this topic.

After some further projects at Basel, he joined the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where he is now associated professor at the Institute of Microtechnology. He is heading the group "tools for nanoscience" in the Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems Laboratory. A prominent example of a nanotool is the atomic force microscope (AFM), which allows visualizing small objects or features of objects below one micrometer down to the atomic sale.

Staufer's first contact with Mars exploration was via such an AFM. He has led the Swiss team, which developed the first AFM for planetary science, an instrument which was part of the MECA experiment, originally scheduled for participating in the 2001 Surveyor Mission. The AFM for the current mission will measure small dust, soil and hopefully ice particles, a task which is already quite demanding on Earth! Hence, the attention has shifted from the pure instrumentation challenge to operational and scientific aspects. This can, of course, only be accomplished in a team. Urs Staufer is therefore very happy that the original team formed by D. Brändlin (software), S. Gautsch (scanner and characterization), H.R. Hidber (electronics), T.W. Pike (integration and operations) and A. Tonin (electronics) could be kept together and was reinforced by D. Parrat (scanner, calibration). With Pike, who was with JPL during the 01 mission, having joined Imperial College in London, UK, the consortium became now European. The activities are sponsored by the University of Neuchâtel, the Wolfermann-Nägeli Foundation, and the Space Center at EPFL. The funding situation in the UK is still pending.

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