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Expanded MiNDS Lab Allowing Students to Make Microscopic-Sized Things in a Big Way

May 27, 2014

Inside Look - Buirning Chips

High-Tech Equipment: The MiNDS Laboratory has state-of-the-art equipment that’s preparing students for careers in the expanding fields of nanotechnology and nanomedicine.

The expanded laboratory for Micro-Nano Device and Systems (MiNDS) is allowing students to put as many as 200 micro-electrical-mechanical systems (MEMS) on a chip that’s one centimeter square.

It’s also opening new career opportunities in this expanding field of science.

“MEMS is the future. The MiNDS Laboratory gives Rose-Hulman students distinct advantages in the exciting world of micro and nano technology,” says Azad Siahmakoun, PhD, associate dean of faculty and director of the MiNDS Laboratory. “We’re one in a handful of colleges providing MEMS experiences to undergraduate students.”

Nano-sized products used every day include sun screen with micro devices that detect the sun’s intensity and prevent sunburns, vehicle car safety bag technology, clothing created with nano textiles that never stain, and nano-particles are being researched as a non-invasive method for selectively killing cancer cells.

The 1,800-square-foot MiNDS Laboratory, located on the first floor of Myers Hall, has state-of-the-art equipment that allow multi-disciplinary teams of faculty and students to complete a variety of micro and nano technology-related projects. Course work spans the fields of material science, chemical detection, optics, power generation, and bio-MEMS.

Each of these areas has promising futures, according to Rose-Hulman faculty members.

“This facility is a unique teaching and research laboratory on campus,” says Richard Liptak, PhD, assistant professor of physics and optical engineering. “It is a fully-functional cleanroom, allowing for the fabrication and characterization of novel devices such as diodes, capacitors, transistors, MEMS devices, and lasers.”

The professor adds, “Most academic cleanrooms located at large institutions do not allow undergraduates in these types of labs.”

Students in several engineering physics and optical engineering classes receive instruction and hands-on experience with state of the art tools used to fabricate semiconductor, MEMS, and optical devices.  During these labs, students fabricate fully functional devices while learning the fundamentals of photolithography, diffusion doping, wet and dry etching, metallization, and oxidation.

A multi-disciplinary research and educational program in nanomedicine—a hot topic in science of the 21st century—will be offered for the first time this summer.

“Nanotechnology is one of the new science and technological frontiers of the 21st century,” says Renat Letfullin, PhD, associate professor of physics and optical engineering. “Nanotechnology is revolutionizing medicine, creating a new science–Nanomedicine, a multidisciplinary science approach to medicine. It is the future of medicine, and it is smart medicine.”

Furthermore, students gain invaluable experience in several characterization techniques, such as atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The expanded space has brought new tools, such as an Arradiance GEMStar-6 Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) system.  This system allows for highly controlled (one monolayer/cycle) deposition of metal oxides, which can be used as gate dielectrics in transistors, optical materials, hard masks, and several other applications. There are plans to add a plasma capability to this tool in the future, further expanding opportunities for students to deposit nitride, carbide, and sulfide materials. 

“The training the students receive in the MINDS facility prepares them for graduate school or jobs in the fields of micro and nanotechnology,” Liptak says.

In 2002, a multi-disciplinary team of faculty from several different departments acquired a $400,000 W. M. Keck Foundation grant to launch a program to teach MEMS technology to undergraduate students. The original grant has been supplemented by equipment donations from ON Semiconductor, and the renovation of a clean space by Rose-Hulman's Office of Academic Affairs, bringing a hands-on lab component to the program.

The original MiNDS Laboratory had 900 square feet—about half the size of the new facility—and was located in Moench Hall.