Restructured Microelectronics Program Based on New Intro Lab
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Robert Hendricks, director of Virginia Tech's microelectronics research group, monitors air quality in the new microchip fabrication clean room. The laboratory was built as a Class 10,000 facility, but is maintained as a more stringent Class 1,000 operation.
In January, Virginia Tech began operating its new 1800 square-foot
cleanroom and plans to make microchip fabrication experience
a requirement for all EE and CpE undergraduates.
The new undergraduate teaching laboratory, on the top floor of
Whittemore Hall, can accommodate up to 500 undergraduates per
year and is one of the country's largest such facilities for
second- and third-year undergraduates. "There is nothing
special about it as a cleanroom, but as an undergraduate teaching
facility, it is unprecedented," said Robert
Hendricks, head of Tech's Microelectronics,
Optoelectronics and Nanotechnology (MicrON) Group. "Most
university clean rooms are available to seniors and graduate
students only," he explained.
The cleanroom was built to ISO Class 7 (Class 10,000) standards,
but is operated at ISO Class 6 (Class 1,000) standards in order
to give students experience in the more stringent protocols.
"We have developed an introductory microchip fabrication
laboratory in which students process 4-inch wafers to create
working nMOSFETs and other devices. We plan to make this course
required of all students in computer engineering, electrical
engineering, materials science and engineering, and physics."
It has only freshman chemistry as its prerequisite. "No
other school in the country exposes as many students to the process
as we will."
The goal is to introduce the concepts of microchip fabrication
in the sophomore year and then develop an option, or minor, in
microelectronics engineering. This will be open to students from
various branches of engineering and the sciences, and may be
completed as part of the curriculum in each participating department,
he said. "The entire EE and MSE offerings in microelectronics
are being rewritten from top to bottom," Hendricks said.
"The option will involve about 15 credit hours of courses,"
he said. Required courses will cover solid state theory, semiconductor
device fabrication technology, and semiconductor materials characterization.
The specialization courses will include semiconductor device
design, semiconductor processes, manufacturing operations, and
special topics, such as nanofabrication/technology and photonic
and optical materials.
The clean room and curriculum are part of a major restructuring
and expansion of the university's education and research capabilities
in microelectronics. "At Virginia Tech, we are committed
to providing our students the necessary background to become
leaders in microelectronics," Hendricks said. "Our
goal is to have one of the top microelectronics programs by 2010."
Four additional advanced undergraduate/graduate teaching and
research laboratories are at various stages of planning and construction.
A materials synthesis laboratory, a device fabrication laboratory
(a Class 1,000 clean room), and a materials analysis laboratory
are being established in Hancock Hall. In addition, device characterization
laboratory (a Class 100 clean room) to measure electrical and
optical properties is under construction in Holden Hall.
The Microelectronics Industrial Advisory Board has been very
active in helping with laboratory planning and construction.
"John Boidock (Texas Instruments, Inc.), Jim George (Motorola),
and Joe Loring (Joe Loring & Associates, Inc.) volunteered
to perform an engineering peer review of our plans and sent back
a report with comments on some items that our engineers missed,"
Hendricks reported. "Our advisory board has helped guide
us with some of the severe safety issues involved, and has been
very gracious with technical advice."
The microelectronics task force that developed the new initiative
consists of 10 faculty members from four departments and two
colleges. "Microelectronics has become a multidisciplinary
enterprise," Hendricks said. "The involvement of so
many departments in this effort is really just a beginning,"
he said. "As we push the envelope of microelectronics, our
answers will come from an even wider range of fields."
The microelectronics initiative is a combined education/research
effort, and Tech is also expanding its research capabilities
in the field, as described in the research section on page 50.
The initiative involves adding faculty members in both teaching
and research roles. As a result, two new faculty members joined
the ECE department recently: Louis Guido, an expert in semiconductor
materials and optoelectronic physics, who has a joint appointment
in MSE; and Stephane Evoy, a specialist in nano-electromechanical
"We are building this program for the long term," Hendricks