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06-09-2003

Clarkson Professors' Chemical Engineering Curriculum Units Made Available Online For Educators And Students

A team of Clarkson University faculty has developed several curriculum units in the field of colloidal science and engineering that are now available online for use by educators. The curriculum units were funded through a grant from the Combined Research-Curriculum Development program of the National Science Foundation. They are intended for use in engineering and colloid science classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels at colleges and universities and in advanced high school classes.

“Advanced Topics in Colloidal Technology” was developed by Clarkson professors Ian Suni, S.V. Babu, Don Rasmussen, and Raymond MacKay of Clarkson’s Center for Advanced Materials Processing (CAMP), working with local high school educator Tim Besaw of Clifton-Fine Central School and several Clarkson students.

The curriculum units cover chemical-mechanical planarization (CMP), particle contamination in the microelectrons industry, surfactants and association colloids, virtual scanning electron microscope, laser light scattering, and heterogenous nanocatalysis. Educators interested in using or reviewing the curriculum units can visit the Web site http://www.clarkson.edu/~thinfilm .

“The speed at which technology advances and changes can make information published in textbooks nearly obsolete by the time it is available for use in the classroom,” explained Suni, a professor of chemical engineering and one of the curriculum’s creators. ”This is particularly true in the field of nanotechnology. Our curriculum units include current information and techniques that are so new or evolving so quickly that they are not well covered in existing instruction materials.”

The unit on CMP processes is a good example. Major advances in manufacturing methods are creating dramatically shrinking but more technically reliable and powerful microprocessors every day. CMP is a technique used to create surfaces that are smooth at the nanolevel (one billionth of a meter), which is an essential step in the manufacturing of computer chips. It is an important field of research that is all but absent in textbooks.

“Clarkson has become a national leader in the CMP polishing process,” explained Suni. “We have an interdisciplinary research team of engineers and scientists collaborating on CMP research at CAMP that has led to innovations in materials and methods that have been adopted by the semiconductor industry.  Drawing on the expertise of our faculty, we have produced what is almost certainly the most comprehensive and current curricular resource on the CMP process available today.”

Another unit, the virtual scanning electron microscope (SEM), provides an interactive introduction for students learning to use a SEM, including slide preparation, equipment and procedure, effects of voltage and working distance, and probe size. Unlike traditional microscopes that use light waves, the SEM creates magnified images by using electrons. The SEM shows highly detailed, three-dimensional images at much higher magnifications than is possible with a light microscope, but specimens must be dried in a special way and coated with a very thin layer of gold to conduct electricity. 

“One of the central missions of the NSF is to support and strengthen science and engineering education programs at all levels,” added Suni. “The grant enabled us to develop these curricular materials and make them available to other educators. Some faculty members have already used the units in their courses.”

The NSF is an independent agency of the United States Government. Its mission is to support and enable scientific and engineering research, education, and exchange of ideas for the general welfare. The NSF supports several programs intended to increase the numbers and quality of people from groups underrepresented in science and engineering to pursue science and engineering careers.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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