UCLA’s Center for Scalable and Integrated Nanomanufacturing (SINAM) Reaches out to Young Minds to Replenish the Engineering Workforce

By Wileen Wong Kromhout

The Center for Scalable and Integrated Nanomanufacturing (SINAM) was created in 2003, after the National Science Foundation awarded the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science a grant worth nearly $18 million over five years to establish a new Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) that would focus on developing cost-effective nanomanufacturing technologies by working closely with industry.

Besides wanting to bridge the gap between scientific research and economically feasible manufacturing solutions, SINAM knew it needed to also address critical high tech work force needs through an integrated research and education program.

One aspect of the center’s educational outreach program is geared towards middle and high school students, grades 7 – 12. Knowing that traditionally the science curriculum for those grades does not provide any exposure to engineering, SINAM, with the help of Sarah Tolbert, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, put in place a program called, “Discover the Exciting World of Nanotechnology,” where students are given the opportunity to learn about photolithography by creating their own circuit boards.

Led by Adrienne Lavine, chair of the mechanical and aerospace engineering department and KiMi Wilson, education and outreach coordinator for SINAM, the team has already brought this personal hands-on experience to several schools in the last couple years including Camino Nuevo Middle School and Camino Nuevo High School, both of Los Angeles, and New City Charter School of Long Beach.

According to Wilson, “We felt that it was important to provide the students with an experience that would enrich their science education, satisfy some of the California State science standards, and expose students to the exciting new field of nano-engineering.”

The center believes that planting the engineering seeds in young minds early will attract many of the best students to the engineering profession. Lavine added, “This program supports our goal of reaching out to underserved communities and increasing the pipeline of students entering the science and engineering fields.”

Professor Adrienne Lavine, also chair of the mechanical and aerospace engineering department, along with SINAM PhD student in Systems and Control, Shalom Ruben, are pouring etchant into a beaker for the students to use in the removal of unwanted copper on their circuit boards which would then leave a desired copper pattern to form electrical wires.
This year, instead of spending three days at each of the participating school sites, the students are brought to UCLA for a more complete university experience. “Bringing the students to campus enables us to involve more faculty and graduate students in the program and to expose the kids to the excitement of a college campus,” said Lavine.

In a college lecture hall, students not only learn the fundamentals of electrical resistance and nanomanufacturing by creating circuit boards, but they are also treated to a special lunch discussion on nanoscience with a volunteer faculty member. The day ends with a tour of the campus.

“As an eighth grade science teacher, with our curriculum, it is very hard for me to do much hands-on work,” said Michelle Kim, of Camino Nuevo Middle School, who participated in this year’s first Nanotechnology class at UCLA. “So I’m very happy that the students have this opportunity and am very impressed with what Professor Lavine and Mr. Wilson have done for us today. The kids have responded very well.”

Besides the “Discover Nanotechnology” program for middle and high school students, SINAM’s other educational programs include The Nanomanufacturing Summer Academy (NMSA), an intensive eight-week research experience for high school and college students and the Graduate Young Investigator Program, where individual or groups of graduate students propose an innovative research topic that involves at least two faculty members in SINAM from different fields, to study a nanomanufacturing topic using a multidisciplinary approach. All three educational components under SINAM reach out to under-represented minority and female students.

Main Image: Exposure stations at work during the photolithography/circuit boards experiment. Photo by Don Liebig.