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REU Participation Imparts Lab Skills and Love for Photolithography

The SENIC Undergraduate Internship in Nanotechnology (SUIN) program is a major component of the Southeastern Nanotechnology Infrastructure Corridor (SENIC), at the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology at Georgia Tech, that focuses on providing undergraduates in engineering the chance to spend a summer conducting research in a world-class collaborative lab with prominent Georgia Tech researchers. GT-IEN hosted 4 undergraduates from various U.S. colleges over the summer that engaged in hands-on research in a number of fields of nanotechnology.

Over the next months, IEN will be highlighting the undergraduate participants, their research topics and experience in the labs, as well as what they gained from the program and their time at Georgia Tech, and in Atlanta.

Our first interviewee from the program is Melanie A. Brunet Torres, an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering at Universidad de Puerto Rico.

Name: Melanie A. Brunet Torres
Mentor: Patrick Creamer
PI: Shannon Yee

1. What sparked your interest in engineering and what problems are you hoping to help solve as an engineer?

 Since I was in school science and technology has always fascinated me. One of my personal and professional goals is to contribute significantly to the scientific community. After completing my bachelor’s degree in biomedical science, I decided to study chemical engineering. Having knowledge in both fields will help me carry out investigations of great impact and significance. Acquiring new scientific knowledge and using it to solve problems that affect humanity is something that has always motivated me to study.

In the future I will carry out research in the area of bioengineering such as disease treatment, characterization of new materials for medical applications such as artificial organs, etc. Scientific knowledge has the potential to help solve problems that afflict humanity and somehow allows us to contribute so that many people in the world can have a better quality of life. This is the main motivations why I have decided to study chemical engineering and do research.

2. What research are you conducting at GT and what applications do you feel this research may have?

I’m working on manufacturing a thermal conductivity measurement device, it has about fifteen steps which can be broken down into deposition steps, photolithography and etching. This device has four suspended heater lines composed of platinum and silicon nitride. It allows us to calculate the resistance of a desired material. By introducing a known current value, we can find the voltage drop and using Ohm’s Law, we can find the materials resistance. Once we know the resistance we can find the temperature of the material and calculate the thermal conductivity. Our goal is to investigate if the polymer fiber synthesized by Prof. Wudl’s group behaves as a thermal rectifier.

Electronics cooling is a huge challenge for electronic industries. Keeping electronic devices such as computers and cellphones from overheating is important for proper functioning. Electronic components depend on the passage of electric current to perform their duties, and they become potential sites for excessive heating due to the Joule heating effect. Thermal rectifiers can control the direction in which heat flows. In most applications, thermal rectifiers need to conduct heat efficiently in one direction to carry heat away from heat generating components and insulate in the other direction to insulate the heat sensitive components.

3. What has been your favorite lab activity/ tool training/ etc. thus far and why?

My favorite lab activity has been going to the cleanroom and doing the photolithography process. It has been a challenge getting it done to perfection. I’ve faced several problems during this step and I’ve succeeded on getting it right by thinking clearly and testing out possible solutions.

One of my favorite tools is the Denton explorer E-beam evaporator. This tool evaporates metals and deposits a layer in your sample. What I like about this tool is that you can watch the metal change from solid to liquid. I’ve had the opportunity to work with gold and it turns bright yellow like lava. Another tool that I’ve enjoyed using is the Hitachi SU8230. It’s amazing the resolution and details that you can see in your sample using this tool. I’ve been trained in 10 tools so far and I enjoy using each one of them.

4. Do you feel this REU experience has helped prepare you for working in a collaborative laboratory environment and furthered your education goals?

This REU experience has given me the opportunity to experience what graduate students do. It has been interesting to see how often we’re faced with new problems in our project and by brainstorming we start coming up with possible solutions and testing them out in the lab. If you want to be good in what you do you have to work intense to obtain the results that you want. Thanks to this experience I know that research is meant for me. I’ve enjoyed going every day to the lab, working hard, reading papers and learning new information about my project. I’m more than sure that after I finish my undergraduate studies I’ll be going to grad school. I want to gain as much knowledge as possible in a specific field so that one day I can use that knowledge to change the world.

5. What are your plans post-undergraduate?

After finishing my bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, I wish to continue my studies in graduate school doing a PhD in bioengineering. Among my future plans are also to do postdoctoral research and be a university professor and researcher.

6. What is your favorite thing about/impression of GA Tech and ATL?

 The first thing that impressed me was how big and beautiful the campus is. I enjoy walking in campus and watching the birds and squirrels, it’s very relaxing. Another thing that impressed me is the modern buildings that they have. I work in the Marcus building and it’s equipped with the latest technology, also it has an amazing cleanroom filled with a variety of tools. One thing that I liked about visiting Atlanta was going to the Centennial Olympic Park and the aquarium, it was my first time visiting one so I was very excited.