Science majors interested in cutting-edge nanotechnology have a new lab in Osburn Hall this Spring semester. The nanofabrication and manufacturing technology lab moved from a cramped closet to a ground-floor, windowed classroom. The renovations took 2 years to complete, from planning committees to execution, and provides the Applied Engineering, Safety and Technology (AEST) program with necessary safety infrastructure.
Nanotechnology involves working with materials between 1 and 100 nanometers in diameter. For comparison, this page of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. Using a combination of microscopes, furnaces, and reactive gases nanofabrication can turn metal powder mixes and carbon fibers into new structures vital to ongoing research efforts. The lab brings one step of a large, collaborative process back to the Millersville campus.
While the equipment was present in the Osburn building before, it was less accessible and lacked vital duct and plumbing works for regular use. Students and faculty were forced to relocate sensitive materials to other rooms or buildings to complete ongoing experiments. In addition to complex equipment like high-temperature tube-furnaces and microscopes, the new lab has a sink, fume-hoods, multiple computers, workspaces, and enough space to work in groups or to conduct multiple experiments simultaneously.
The new room is closer to other commonly used fabrication labs than before. Additionally, the lab doors were renovated to provide visibility to observing faculty, and for improved fire and air safety standards. Students using the facilities for independent studies are supervised by faculty or a graduate student. Depending on the student’s degree progress, they may already possess several certifications in safe chemical handling or cleanroom practices. Current research efforts in the field are using the produced materials to advance understanding in electronics, filtration, and robotics.
Dr. Mark Atwater, AEST Associate Professor and key figure for the project, summarized the benefits by saying, “[The lab] gives us a way to do hands-on research. The program lets students meet high-impact practices and gives them learning experiences while also generating new data for their field.” Dr. Atwater has been spearheading the relocation idea since its inception in 2017. And he was sure to stress the multidisciplinary nature of this equipment, stating that the lab, “promotes collaborative efforts,” between students, faculty, and departments.
Lab work in nanotechnology supports an AEST Associate of Technology (A.T.) degree and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Minor in Nanofabrication Manufacturing Technology, and an American Chemistry Society (ACS) approved B.S. degree, with an option in Nanotechnology, from the Chemistry department. Physics, Education, and the Pre-Pharmacy departments also have related programs which have access to the nanotechnology lab. These degree concentrations are supplemented by up to 18 credits of specialized course work at the Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization (CNEU); but the new lab reduces some of that time spent away by providing on-site facilities here at Millersville.
Outside of required classes, students and faculty can use the lab to work on independent research and grant work. Material costs usually come from the grant budget awarded to those on a specific project, but the program hopes that future research successes will inspire more outside funding and industry cooperation through internships and grants.