MIT undergraduates use the MIT.nano labs to tinker at the nanoscale, exploring spectrometry, nanomaterial synthesis, photovoltaics, sensor fabrication, and other topics. They also have an uncommon undergraduate experience – dressing up in a bunny suit and doing hands-on research in a clean room.
In the fall 2021 semester, these students were part of 6.S059 (Nanotechnology—Design From Atoms to Everything) and 6.A06 (First.nano!—Make Your Own Solar Cell in MIT.nano Cleanroom), two courses offered by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) aimed at introducing undergraduate students to nanoscience through design-driven learning using relevant manufacturing processes and tool sets.
“Courses like these can be transformational experiences for our students,” says Vladimir Bulović, director of MIT.nano, holder of the Fariborz Maseeh (1990) Chair in Emerging Technologies. “They sent the message that nanoscience is within reach. It is not a distant and abstract concept, but accessible here and now. We’re thrilled to see MIT faculty inspire and shape future leaders in science and technology by showing them what they can master inside MIT.nano.
Use simple tools to encourage broader exploration
The 6.S059 class was developed to link the fundamentals of engineering design to the actual building of functional embedded technologies, something typically separated into multiple classes and semesters.
Over nine weeks, 18 students from five different university departments learned several nanoscale prototyping techniques at MIT.nano, including spin coating, maskless lithography, 3D printing, colloidal synthesis, sputtering, evaporation and optical microscopy. By focusing on a variety of simple tools, students could do much of the work without the need for extensive, specialized training. Rather than watching teaching assistants operate the equipment, these undergraduate students could do the research themselves and, in doing so, focus on how science works, as opposed to how to operate a complicated setup.
“We wanted to teach the science of what you need to design nanodevices and systems in an interactive and hands-on way,” says co-instructor Farnaz Niroui, EE Landsman Career Development Assistant Professor (1958) in Electrical and Computer Engineering. at MIT. “Often these introductory courses take a heavy math/theoretical approach, which can make it difficult to keep students interested. We decided to teach it through an applied approach, having students design and build, while learning the fundamentals along the way. »
Instead of giving instructions on how to do each step in the weekly labs, Niroui and his co-instructor Rajeev Ram, professor of electrical engineering, taught the end result (like using light to observe things you can’t). not see with the naked eye) and then let students experiment with assembling the set of tools needed to achieve this (such as designing and building their own portable microscopes and spectrometers). Each week’s project builds on the previous one. For example, undergraduate students first designed their own spectrometers, then fabricated the optical grating and a 3D-printed case to assemble the tool. This led to a hands-on introduction to CAD design, photolithography and 3D printing, followed by playing around with different light sources and testing their devices on real-world applications by measuring chlorophyll in a leaf and emitting quantum dots.
For their final project, the students divided into teams to design and build their own assistive devices. Each project had to use materials and techniques covered in the class and have at least one feature below 100 nanometers. The six teams were ultimately successful, overcoming challenges to create stretchable sensors using silver nanowires, seven-segment pixel displays for wearable applications, an array of programmable organic light-emitting diodes, light-trapping microstructures for solar cells thin-film, color-tunable light-emitting diode and fluorescent ink printing on flexible substrates.
“Watching the students design and build their own devices after only a few weeks of teaching was exciting and impressive,” says Ram. “It showed that a hands-on introduction to advanced concepts in physics can really provide undergraduate students with useful and practical knowledge about nanotechnology.”
This was the first year for the design-focused nanotechnology class. Niroui and Ram hope to expand it in future semesters, expanding the offering to more undergraduates.
“Many students said they were excited to further explore the world of applied science and hardware engineering,” says teaching assistant Mayuran Saravanapavanantham, PhD student at EECS. “One even said he searched MIT course listings for anything with the term ‘nano’ in it. Saravanapavanantham was one of three TAs for 6.S059, along with Roberto Brenes and Peter Satterthwaite, all EECS doctoral students.
A first glimpse of the nanoworld
“First.nano!”, a counseling seminar for first-year students, had similar goals: to show undergraduates what’s possible at the nanoscale through hands-on cleanroom experiments. For three hours a week, MIT students in 6.A06 explored MIT. .nano, experimenting with nanotechnology tool sets and building silicon solar cells under co-instructors Jesús del Alamo, Donner Professor of Engineering, and Jorg Scholvin, MIT.nano Deputy Director for User Services .
“How to interest first-year students in nanofabrication?” asks Jorg Scholvin. “Bring them into the clean room and let them learn by doing things in the lab.” The strategy definitely sparked interest: more than 30 new undergraduate students applied to fill one of the eight slots offered at the seminar.
Students typically don’t enter the clean room during their undergraduate studies, Scholvin says. By introducing them to nanofabrication during their first semester, del Alamo and Scholvin hope to accelerate their journey into nano-related fields. And, with experience working in a particle-free environment, says Scholvin, these students are now prepared for future opportunities, such as nanoscale research with faculty through the Premier Research Opportunities program. cycle.
“One of First.nano’s goals! was to share our passion for nanofabrication,” says del Alamo. “The MIT.nano is an extraordinary facility. By creating opportunities for these students to work and study here, we hope to open it up to wide use for research and undergraduate education.
Students from 6.S059 and 6.A06 are invited to present their work to 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.