The ECE, MSE (Materials Sciences and Engineering) and Physics Departments have jointly received one of the University's Exemplary Department Awards for 2003.
|The ECE, MSE, and Physics departments have been named "Exemplary Departments," for their collaborative efforts in microelectronics and nanotechnology. Shown here is one of four laboratories jointly developed by the departments. The 1800 square-foot clean room for device fabrication has enabled 150 undergraduates to study the introduction of semiconductor fabrication.
The award was given for "working collaboratively across departmental boundaries to fulfill common or complementary goals," in the joint development of the academic and research program known as MicrON (Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Nanotechnology).
In a five-year period, the three departments restructured the teaching of microelectronics with an integrated, cross-disciplinary curriculum, built four major teaching and research laboratories, and collaborated to attract funding and faculty members.
Innovative Curriculum Development
With $400,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the departments developed more than 10 courses covering all aspects of microelectronics, optoelectronics, and nanotechnology from introductory sophomore level courses to 5000-level graduate courses. The new courses reside in five departments and several are cross-listed.
"We worked to create a curriculum that is logical, interesting, and relevant," said Robert Hendricks, who headed the MicrON effort. The curriculum was developed with input and feedback from major microelectronics firms in Virginia. "The coherence of our offerings, as compared to a previously scattered and rather sparse set of offerings, is now attracting large numbers of undergraduate and graduate students. One of our courses is taught via distance learning to students at the University of Virginia," Hendricks added.
Minor in Microelectronic Engineering
This fall, the group will propose the development of a minor in microelectronic engineering with a cross-listed checksheet from the participating departments. "Although there is no major in this field, under new university policies, we are able to offer such a minor," Hendricks said. "This may be the greatest innovation emerging from our collaboration."
Introductory Semiconductor Fab Lab
Another innovation was introducing undergraduates to semiconductor fabrication, in an ISO Class 7 cleanroom. More than 150 students have taken the introductory lab, where they have made working transistors and diodes on 4-inch silicon wafers. "The cleanroom was featured on the cover of the February 2001 CleanRooms Magazine and was noted as one of the most innovative developments in microelectronics education in recent years," Hendricks said.
Students Well Prepared for Top 10 Grad Schools
"Perhaps the greatest result of this collaboration are the phone calls, we have received from our best undergraduates who have gone on to study microelectronics and related fields at schools such as Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, MIT, and Stanford," he said. "The message is uniformly the same: Tech prepared these students as undergraduates better than most of their peers in graduate school. Our students have no trouble competing with students from the 'Top 10' schools," he said.
New Laboratories Built
In support of the education and research efforts in the field, the three departments have constructed four major laboratories, the 1800 square-foot clean room for device fabrication, a device packaging laboratory , and a sophisticated packaging laboratory. An MOCVD laboratory is under construction this summer. "Much of the collaboration has involved obtaining outside funding for these labs," Hendricks said. Several outside organizations have provided funding, including the Pratt Foundation, the Virginia Microelectronics Consortium, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).
Innovative Cross-Departmental Collaboration
As noted by the Exemplary Department Award, the hallmark of the MicrON effort has been the collaboration between departments and colleges to develop the education and research efforts. Many of the faculty involved have joint or affiliate position in one of the other two departments. "There have been a core of about 10 faculty members who have led the way," Hendricks said. "Of these, seven are assistant and associate professors, almost all of whom have received national research recognition. We have a group of smart, creative faculty members who are committed to collaborating in this field."
The departments have also been committed to the effort, Hendricks said. "Each department contributed to building our laboratories, whether it was space, equipment, personnel time, or financial resources. The provost and the College of Engineering also provided significant funding.