Intel donation to provide undergrads a chance to work in nanofabrication lab

ECE News

Meg Dickinson, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • Intel is donating three pieces of equipment that will form the basis of a lab space that will allow undergraduates to learn about nanofabrication.
  • The new nanofabrication laboratory will be located in the new Electrical and Computer Engineering Building.
  • The lab will be the first of its kind, at least that ECE ILLINOIS Engineering Teaching Lab Specialist Dane Sievers knows about, available to undergraduate students. Students typically aren't exposed to this technology until graduate school, he said.

Nanofabrication is a popular concept in the tech industry right now, but the typical undergraduate student doesn’t have a chance to try it.

That’s about to change at ECE ILLINOIS.

Intel is donating three pieces of equipment that will form the basis of a lab space that will allow undergraduates to learn about the concept. It will be located in the new Electrical and Computer Engineering Building’s nanofabrication laboratory.

“For students, using this equipment will expose them to research-level processes that most students never have the opportunity to explore until graduate school,” said Dane Joseph Sievers, an engineering teaching lab specialist at ECE.

Not only will they be using the equipment to learn techniques at the forefront of technology right now, but they’ll also get a sense of what kind of technology is out there. They’ll be exposed to new ideas early in their academic careers, he said.

Dane Joseph Sievers
Dane Joseph Sievers
“It’s really ambitious, but that’s the Illinois way,” Sievers said, adding that ECE’s existing clean room technology for students has given the department a proven record of allowing students such opportunities. “We take ideas and implement them in ingenious ways, and cost-effective ways.”

Seventeen years ago, a donation from Intel helped Illinois continue to find the best way to teach students about fabricating integrated circuits in its clean room in the basement of Everitt Lab.

ECE ILLINOIS pioneered that concept, starting in the mid-1960s, Sievers said, and the donated equipment from Intel will allow it to do the same with nanofabrication.

The lab and its equipment will expand graduating students’ knowledge, and expose them to new and emerging processes and technologies that, until now, haven’t been available in any undergraduate lab Sievers knows about.

Mark Bohr
Mark Bohr
Intel Senior Fellow and ECE alumnus Mark Bohr (MSEE '78) said Illinois has been a leader among academic institutions as it offers a microfabrication laboratory course for its undergraduates.

“This course gives students hands-on training and experience in some of the fabrication techniques used by integrated circuit companies like Intel to make microprocessor chips,” he said. “With an eye to the future, this new laboratory course for undergraduate students teaches nanofabrication techniques using dimensions about 1,000 times smaller than in the previous course.”

It will also allow students to work with new materials and devices beyond traditional silicon transistors, he said.

“Intel is a strong supporter of engineering education and believes that this new nanofabrication course will both prepare and interest students in some of the engineering challenges we’ll face over the next 40 years,” Bohr said. “I’m very pleased that Intel had the opportunity to play a part in setting up this new nanofabrication class.”

Michael Hattendorf
Michael Hattendorf
Many current Intel employees spent time learning in ECE’s Fab Lab, said Michael Hattendorf, a process integration engineer at Intel and an ECE alumnus who serves on the ECE Alumni Board.

“The nanofabrication equipment donation is a chance for Intel to expand on the success of the Fab Lab and the positive relationship between Intel and ECE ILLINOIS,” he said.

Laura Bain, an Intel recruiter and campus engagement manager, said Illinois alums who end up working at Intel have a history of being successful within the company. In the last five years, the company has hired almost 100 students who have earned their PhDs at ECE ILLINOIS.

“We recognize that pipeline, that something’s working,” she said, and Intel wants to grow and strengthen that connection. “This is a demonstration of us continuing to foster that relationship, and making it the best it can be.”

Burke Walls, a global college talent strategist within Intel's College Center of Excellence, said the new building prominently features the importance of undergraduate education.

Intel also supports the idea of getting undergraduates excited early in their college careers, Walls said, and the equipment donation will prepare them earlier in their careers for concepts that could be coming their way in the future.

“Student interns and new college graduates face challenges here, and nothing has been done in school to prepare them,” he said. “The donation will go a long way. They can say, ‘I’ve done this, I’ve done similar things and it’s time to get ramped up on something new.’”

Walls said another natural connection between Intel and ECE ILLINOIS is a focus on hardware. The equipment will be used in the prominently featured lab space on the first floor of the new building, where windows will reveal students hard at work.

“A lot of what we do at Intel is based on hardware,” Wall said. “To have students be excited about that, study that, it’s exciting. I think it’s a good thing.”

Sievers said the nanofabrication lab will teach students to exploit the properties of new material systems.

“This equipment will be crucial in giving students the opportunity to fabricate new types of devices whose properties are dependent on their size,” he said.

Materials that might behave several ways on a larger scale will often do just one thing on a smaller scale. He compared that to a human in a room, who can move about the floor in any number of ways. If that person is confined to a cabinet, he or she will be much more limited.

The equipment will allow students to fabricate colloidal quantum dots, nanowires, non-ring oscillators, and carbon nanotube LEDs, using optoelectronics and plasmonics, on novel materials, like carbon nanotubes or graphene, rather than just silicon.

The equipment includes a dual-beam focused ion beam, which is “like multiple tools in one,” because it has both an ion beam and an electron beam, Sievers said, and can be used for imaging, lithography, etching, and depositing materials.

Another donated piece of equipment will be a sputtering tool that allows students to deposit multiple types of materials that make up the different parts of the devices they’re fabricating. It offers the advantage of uniform coatings with different types of materials, Sievers said.

The third piece of equipment, a tool for di-electric deposition, will allow students to use plasma to deposit a variety of materials at much lower temperatures than using other methods. This will give them the flexibility to add new layers of materials without destroying underlying features.

Joseph W. Lyding
Joseph W. Lyding
ECE Professor Joseph W Lyding said the lab will be “one of the most advanced teaching facilities ever devoted to undergraduate education.”

“The nanofabrication teaching laboratory will give our students a unique immersive perspective on how nanotechnology is changing our modern world,” he said.

For more information about giving to the Building Campaign for ECE ILLINOIS, please contact Steven George, the senior director of advancement, by email or by calling (217) 244-8023.

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