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NanoTechnology & MEMs


Nanotechnology is the design of very submicroscopic structures for electronic and other purposes.  The transistors inside the microprocessors that are currently used in personal computers are about 65 nanometers across.  This is about 50 times the diameter of an atom, and is about ten times too small to see with a visible light microscope.  It is about ten times smaller than the diameter of a bacterium.  Nanotechnology is the design of structures that are roughly 65 nanometers across or smaller.  The ultimate goal is to use individual molecules as electronic components, and connect them together with atomically precise connections.  Potential applications of nanotechnology include the following.

  1. Extremely Small Electronic Circuitry - The microprocessor at the heart of a present day personal computer has about 390,000,000 transistors in it, wired together into a single complex circuit.  If the transistors can be replaced with single molecules, a microprocessor might contain more than 1,000,000,000,000 transistors and be 10,000 times as powerful.  Computers as small as blood cells could be constructed.
  2. Optics - By reducing the dimensions of optical sensors in still and video cameras to nanometer dimensions, their optical properties can be modified in ways that improve their spectral properties.
  3. Sensors for Brain Implants - People who are blind or physically handicapped could benefit greatly from being able to interface electronics directly with their brains.  This will probably, when combined with other advances, allow blind people to see the images captured by small television cameras, and it will probably allow physically handicapped persons to control artificial arms, legs, and hands directly with their thoughts in much the same way as other people control natural arms and legs.  Nanotechnology will probably be necessary for creating this kind of brain interface.

MEMs stands for Micro Electro Mechanical devices.  Many of the same techniques that are used to create microscopic electronic devices can also be used to construct microscopic mechanical devices and fluidic devices.  Microscopic mechanical devices can be used as sensors (pressure, acceleration, etc.)  They can also be used to direct light beams for creating images or switching internet signals.  A DLP (Digital Light Processing) high definition television uses a silicon chip about 1 cm. square containing approximately a million microscopic movable mirrors to create the television image.

Microfluidic devices are being developed as rapidly as possible for biomedical applications.  It may be possible using microscopic tubes, valves & pumps to implement a complex chemical laboratory on a single small chip.  One application of this would be to accelerate the search for new drugs.  Finding a new drug usually requires testing tens of thousands of chemicals until one is found that has the desired effect.  Chips with hundreds or thousands of testing chambers apiece could greatly accelerate this search.

NanoTechnology & MEMs Research at the University of Arkansas

The following Electrical Engineering faculty are doing research in nanotechnology or MEMs.  Details on their research & their labs can be seen by clicking on their names and other links.

  1. Simon Ang does research on the design of microfluidic devices.
  2. Omar Manasreh does research on using quantum nanodots & quantum layers for optics.
  3. Vijay Varadan does research on using nanotechnology for creating brain interfaces.

Courses for the NanoTechnology & MEMs Specialty Area

Recommended Undergraduate Elective Courses
ELEG 4203  Semiconductor Devices
ELEG 4233 Introduction to Integrated Circuit Design
CHEM 3703  Organic Chemistry I
PHYS 3614  Modern Physics

Additional Graduate & Undergraduate Courses
ELEG 5213  Integrated Circuit Fabrication Technology
ELEG 5233  Solid-State Electronics I
ELEG 5253L  Integrated Circuit Design Laboratory I
ELEG 5263L  Integrated Circuit Design Laboratory II
ELEG 5273  Electronic Packaging
ELEG 5293L  Integrated Circuits Fabrication Laboratory
ELEG 5323  Semiconductor Nanostructures I
ELEG 5333  Semiconductor Nanostructures II
ELEG 6213  Semiconductor Surfaces
ELEG 6233  Solid State Electronics II
ELEG 6273  Advanced Electronic Packaging
PHYS 4073  Introduction to Quantum Mechanics
CHEM 3713  Organic Chemistry II
CHEM 3813  Introduction to Biochemistry