MAILED: April 24, 1997|
EAU CLAIRE -- University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire physics students hoping for a career in the semiconductor industry will be a step ahead of competitors thanks to significant upgrades planned for an undergraduate surface physics laboratory.
The National Science Foundation awarded Dr. Kim Pierson, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, $24,266 for the project. UW-Eau Claire will match those funds, making a total of $48,533 available for laboratory upgrades.
A pilot surface physics program concentrating on sputtering -- which is a way to make thin films of precise thickness -- has been successful, Pierson said. Among the accomplishments of the existing program is developing collaborations with local semiconductor companies such as Cray Research, he said. The department will be able to take those collaborations to another level once a new surface physics course is in place using the new equipment, he said.
"The new equipment will allow us to build on our current success and develop new courses covering a broader area of surface physics with a focus on thin films," Pierson said. "This program will provide unique opportunities for students to acquire summer internships and permanent employment in positions requiring knowledge and laboratory experience in vacuum technology, sputtering and thin films."
Currently, semiconductor companies often train existing employees to fill specific jobs within their organizations, Pierson said. "What they really want is people in those positions with four-year degrees who have a mix of chemistry and physics experience," he said. "Our students will be able to fill that niche. Students will complete an applied course and then we'll get them into internships and research projects."
Some of the new equipment is arriving this month and all of it should be in place this summer, Pierson said.
Among the innovative parts of UW-Eau Claire's surface physics program is the close collaboration with local integrated circuit fabrication industries - or manufacturers of computer chips -- which provide the majority of the evaluation and feedback on the program, Pierson said.
"Given the importance of surface physics in the areas of thin films, integrated circuit miniaturization, and the development of micro electrical mechanical systems, the proposed surface physics program could serve as a national model of an applied undergraduate program directed at providing students with the specialized skills and experience necessary to make valuable contributions in these vital areas," Pierson said.
Already, he said, students who have had internships at local semiconductor companies have had impressive job offers and invitations to prestigious graduate schools. In the past, undergraduate physics programs have concentrated on preparing students for graduate schools, he said. "We want to give them skills so that can go out and get jobs in the high tech semiconductor industry."
Students are excited about the surface physics field, Pierson said, noting that five students are working on research projects with him this semester. "Students are continually asking to get involved in the program," he said. "Unfortunately, I have to turn some of them away. Once the lab is set up and the new course is in place, I will be able to take more students."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: April 25, 1997