Undergraduate classes provide a practical introduction to nanotechnology and nanoengineering in withnano.
MIT undergraduates use the laboratories at MIT (MIT.nano) for nanoscale manipulation, spectrometry exploration, nanomaterials synthesis, photovoltaics, sensor fabrication, and other topics. They also get an uncommon college-level experience – they put on a bunny suit and do hands-on research inside a clean room.
During the Fall 2021 semester, these students were part of 6.S059 (Nanotechnology – Design from Atoms to Everything) and 6.A06 (Nano First! – Make Your Own Solar Cells at MIT.nano Cleanroom), two classes that aim to The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) aims to introduce undergraduate students to nanoscience through design-focused learning using manufacturing processes and related toolkits.
“Classes like these can be transformative experiences for our students,” says MIT Director Vladimir Polovich, Fariborz Maseeh (1990) Chair in Emerging Technology. “They are spreading the message that nanoscience is at your fingertips. It’s not a far-fetched abstract concept, but accessible here and now. We are thrilled to see MIT faculty inspiring and shaping future leaders in science and technology by demonstrating what they can master within Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “
Use simple tools to encourage broad exploration
Class 6.S059 was developed to link the fundamentals of engineering design to the actual construction of integrated functional technologies, something that is typically divided into multiple classes and semesters.
Over the course of nine weeks, 18 students from five different academic departments learned several nano-modeling techniques at MIT including rotational coating, maskless lithography, 3D printing, colloidal synthesis, spraying and evaporation, and optical microscopy. By focusing on a variety of simple tools, students can do a lot of work without requiring extensive, specialized training. Instead of watching teaching assistants operate the equipment, these undergraduates can conduct the research themselves and focus in the process on how science works, rather than how to operate a complex setup.
“We wanted to teach the science of what it takes to design nano-devices and systems in an interactive and practical way,” said Associate Instructor Farnaz Neroy, EE Landsman (1958) assistant professor of career development in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. These introductory courses often take a heavy math/theoretical approach, which can make it difficult to keep students interested. We decided to teach it with an applied approach – having students design and build, while learning the basics along the way. “
Instead of giving instructions on how to do each step in the weekly labs, Neroy and assistant coach Rajiv Ram, a professor of electrical engineering, taught the end result (such as using light to observe things you can’t see with the naked eye) and then let the students experiment with assembling the set of tools needed to reach to there (such as designing and building their own microscopes and handheld spectrophotometers). Each week project builds on one before. For example, undergraduates first designed their own spectrophotometers, then made an optical clamp and a 3D-printed case to assemble the instrument. This led to a practical introduction to CAD design, optical lithography, and 3D printing, followed by playing with different light sources and testing their devices in real-world applications by measuring chlorophyll in a sheet and emission of quantum dots.
For their final project, the students were divided into teams to design and build their own working machines. Each project had to use the materials and techniques covered in the class, and contain at least one feature smaller than 100 nanometers. All six teams were ultimately successful, overcoming challenges to create stretchable sensors using silver nanowires, seven-segment displays for wearable applications, a programmable organic LED array, light microstructures for thin-film solar cells, and a scalable light. For color tuning – LED and fluorescent ink printing on flexible substrates.
“Seeing the students design and build their own devices after a few weeks of teaching was both exciting and impressive,” Ram says. “He has shown that a practical introduction to advanced concepts in physics can provide undergraduate students with useful practical knowledge about nanotechnology.”
This was the first year of a nanotechnology class focusing on design. Neroy and Ram hope to expand it in future classes, and expand the offering to more undergraduates.
“Many students said they are excited to explore more in the world of applied sciences and instrumentation engineering,” says Teaching Assistant Mayuran Saravanapavanantham, a PhD student at EECS. “One even said they searched MIT course listings for anything with the term ‘nano’.” Saravanapavanantham was one of three TAs for 6.S059, along with Roberto Brenes and Peter Satterthwaite, all EECS PhD students.
An early glimpse into the world of nano
It was “First.nano!” , an advisory seminar for first-year students, has similar goals: to show undergraduates what is possible at the nanoscale through clean room experiments. For three hours each week, MIT students explore at six. MIT.nano Assistant Manager for User Services.
“How do we get first-year students interested in nanofabrication?” asks Jörg Scholvin. “Bring them to the clean room and let them learn by doing things in the lab.” The strategy certainly sparked interest: More than 30 incoming undergraduate students applied for one of the eight positions offered at the symposium.
Scholvin says that students usually don’t enter the clean room during their college years. By introducing them to nanofabrication in their first semester, Del Alamo and Scholvin hope to accelerate their paths in nano-related fields. With experience working in a particle-free environment, these students are now ready for future opportunities, such as conducting nanoscale research with faculty through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Scholvin says.
“One of the goals of First.nano! is to share our passion for nanofabrication,” says Del Alamo. “MIT.nano is an exceptional facility. By creating opportunities for these students to work and study here, we hope to open up the space for wider use of undergraduate research and education.”
Undergraduates from both 6.S059 and 6.A06 are invited to present their work at the Annual Microsystems Research Conference (MARC), co-sponsored by MIT.nano and Microsystems Technology Laboratories in January. The event, which brings together more than 200 students, faculty and industry partners to celebrate scientific advances in nanotechnology, traditionally features presentations by graduate students.