Santa Clara University


Next-Gen Efforts

Student Fauzia Ahmed assists professor Cary Yang in the clean room of the Center for Nanostructures.
Photo: Charles Barry
Professor Cary Yang is used to working on a small scale. As director of the Center for Nanostructures, he studies materials and devices measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter.

But his center in the School of Engineering recently received something of a very large size: millions in funding from the U.S. Army for a project on next-generation computer chip technology. Yang and his team are working on using a new carbon-based material to improve the electrical conduction as well as the heat dissipation of a chip.

“What to do with excess heat is probably the most pressing problem of the industry,” Yang says.

Currently, wires, or interconnects, in a chip are made of copper or aluminum. But higher-performing and more reliable circuits would benefit everyone who uses computers.

The funding supports the Thermal and Electrical Nanoscale Transport, or TENT, project. Twenty faculty members, students, and staff are involved, including undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students who have backgrounds in physics and chemistry as well as electrical and mechanical engineering. “More and more, technological innovation requires experts from a range of disciplines,” says Yang. The large, long-term project grew out of a $1.3 million gift in 2004 to the center from John and Susan Ocampo.

Project members work out of the clean room lab on campus as well as the NASA Ames Research Center; in addition, they use the Nanofabrication Facility at Stanford University.

Yang says students on the project learn advanced research techniques. They have access to state-of-the-art lab equipment. “We have a really good setup here—students at all levels can do things that can’t even be done at some research institutions,” he says. “This project is a great way to expose students to cutting-edge science, to educate them on how the science evolves into new technologies, and to hone their analytical and hands-on skills.”