Nanotechnology WOW! Factor Endures at Michigan Technological University

An Interview with Dr. John Jaszczak

Michigan Tech Professor Jaszczak explores nanotechnology for STEM education

Michigan Tech Professor Jaszczak explores nanotechnology, asking "What's so special about nano?"

In 2003, Michigan Technological University was awarded one of the first Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education (NUE) grants.  The goal was to introduce nanoscale science and engineering topics to first- and second-year engineering and science students, with a particular emphasis on reaching engineering students whose curricula have relatively little flexibility. Popular student and faculty response to the NSF-funded nanotechnology program at Michigan Tech resulted in the creation of an interdisciplinary minor in Nanoscale Science and Engineering in 2005.

A decade later, the Nanotechnology minor continues to attract students to Michigan Tech for hands-on experience with scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). The STM and AFM scanning probe instruments at Michigan Tech are portable, affordable systems that are easy to use and allow students to image surfaces on the nanoscale.

“The ‘WOW’ factor is still there for seeing down to the atomic scale with STM and AFM,” explains Dr. Jaszczak. “Using the AFM and STM is an irreplaceable experience,” for students and faculty alike.

NUE Funded Activities
Interdisciplinary Minor in Nanoscale Science and Engineering
Using STM and AFM in the Classroom
Imagining the Invisible
Future of Nanotechnology

 

NUE Funded Activities

The Nanotechnology program sought to focus on three main aspects of nanoscale studies: the underlying scientific principles, possible scientific and engineering applications, and the societal implications of implementing nanotechnology.

Professor of Physics Dr. John Jaszczak, PI on the NUE grant and student-initiated Nanotechnology Student Association (NanoSA) faculty advisor, says "The [original] grant was extremely helpful in catalyzing our activities, and we are finding that many are continuing beyond the grant and growing."

The introduction of nanotechnology components into the first- and second-year engineering curricula involved some key challenges. The highly structured nature of the engineering curricula allows students very little leeway for taking electives, and the NUE faculty, particularly those with research experience in nanotechnology, had heavy schedules to contend with.  Also, the grant's one-year duration did not allow time to develop and approve new courses.

The solution was to work within existing frameworks by developing modular educational activities, particularly in the common first-year experience for all engineering majors. These included an introduction to Moore’s law, a new ethics case study, and a two-hour interdisciplinary exploration called Exploring Nanotechnology through Carbon Nanotubes.

The nanotube exploration was later modified into a 1-hour demonstration which Dr. Jaszczak has been doing at local high schools using a Nanosurf easyScan 2 STM. Dr. Jaszczak has also been using the easyScan 2 STM in demonstrations in freshman and sophomore physics courses to introduce them to STM and make them aware of the nanotechnology program.

“The STM was an answer to a real hope that I had after introducing the nanoscale to students in the exploration and wishing I could actually demonstrate atomic-scale imaging in the classroom,” noted Dr. Jaszczak.

Michigan Tech students use the STM to image crystalline graphite on the atomic scale

Michigan Tech students use the STM to image crystalline graphite on the atomic scale

Interdisciplinary Minor in Nanoscale Science and Engineering

A main purpose of the minor, in addition to introducing students to the basic issues and overall scope of this field, is to encourage students to pursue interdisciplinary coursework outside their major and develop an understanding of the importance of flexibility in terms of careers, research, and education.

"During the grant we brought in a lot of guest speakers," Dr. Jaszczak explains, "and without prodding them, they brought up this point again and again, that you've got to be interdisciplinary. It's not that you need to major in nanotechnology, but that you need to know how to talk to people in other disciplines, that breakthroughs are taking place at the boundaries of disciplines." 

Dr. Jaszczak is also an Affiliated Professor in Michigan Tech’s Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences and takes a special interest in introducing nano-related topics at the undergraduate and high school levels. He and Dr. Bruce Seely, now Dean of the College of Sciences & Arts, presented a paper at the Symposium on Education in Nanoscience and Engineering at the Spring 2006 MRS meeting entitled "Planting Seeds: Including Nanotechnology Education into Engineering Curricula."

The two have also contributed a chapter entitled “Developing nano education at a technological university:  Science, technology and societal implications of nanotechnology” in Nanoscale Science and Engineering Education: Issues, Trends and Future Directions (American Scientific Publishers).

Using STM and AFM in the Classroom

The STM and AFM were initially used for demonstrations in the Nanotechnology program. When the student-to-instrument ratio allows for hands-on experience, students are given the training and opportunity to use the STM and AFM individually.

Crystalline graphite, from Dr. Jaszczak’s company aptly named Naturally Graphite, allows students to image carbon atoms, measure the bond distance, and determine the spacing between graphene sheets.

Individual transistors from EPROM chips are imaged with the AFM. Students can investigate the density and design by image analysis of the different samples. The memory chip samples also introduce the concepts of size and cost scaling with length scale.

Michigan Tech students with AFM and transistors imaged from EPROM sample

AFM images of EPROM transistor, illustrating design and density; images courtesy Michigan Tech

Imagining the Invisible

As part of work that stemmed from another NUE grant from NSF in 2008, Dr. Jaszczak and students enrolled in the new Nanotech Innovations Enterprise developed hands-on summer workshops called “Imagining the Invisible.” The workshops introduce high school students and teachers to key topics for nanotechnology, including the demonstration of AFM and STM. Over 1200 high school students and over 50 teachers explored the world of nanotechnology through these experiences.

Students learn STM and AFM at the Women in Engineering Workshop

Students learn STM and AFM at the Women in Engineering Workshop

The workshop activities sparked numerous conversations between high school and Michigan Tech students regarding nanoscale science and technology, plus college life and STEM careers. The peer-to-peer approach enhanced learning opportunities for all at the workshops. More information about Nanotech Innovations Enterprise is described in “Nanotech Innovations Enterprise at Michigan Technological University” published in the Journal of Nanoscience Education 5, 27-43 (2013).

Future of Nanotechnology

What does Dr. Jaszczak envision for the future of nanotechnology?

“The field of nanotechnology is growing,” shares Dr. Jaszczak. As a physicist and scientist, nanotechnology fulfills, in the words of Richard Feynman, the "pleasure of finding things out." He continues, "I hope our work has inspired some students to pursue further studies in nanotechnology in particular, but also in science and engineering in general."

For more information about the Nanotechnology program, contact Dr. Jaszczak at jaszczak@mtu.edu.

 

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in part in the nanoAdvisor Fall 2006 edition. Thanks to Dr. Jaszczak for taking time with us again for an update.