One of the opportunities presented by attending the COMS08 conference, was to extend the trip to see some nano education related activities. With some referrals and planning, I was able to arrange a visit to the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sandia was established in 1949 and has a history of developing science-based technologies that support national security.
I got an introduction to part of Sandia when Gil Herrara presented at COMS08. Gil spoke about the MESA facility and some of the work they are doing in microsystems development. Listen here to a podcast of Gil’s talk About MESA at Sandia. Gil has assured me that the content is not classified (!).
The first part of my visit was spent at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT). The centre does a mixture of characterisation, synthesis and integration work and is set up with space to allow users to work at the centre. I also heard about the mechanisms and benefits of Sandia’s university alliances, the National Institute for Nano-Engineering (NINE) and managed to catch-up again with Harold Stalford.
NINE is a national innovation hub that aims to enhance student education by engaging them in team research activities for leading-edge technologies. The program includes a range of summer projects for university students. I was also shown a lab-on-chip device that CINT is hoping to send out to clients for experiments. One such test might include adding a ball to the end of a cantilever to act as an atomic force microscope. But the best thing about the technology was comparing the microscopic image of the chip showing its circuits and cantilevers with the physical chip itself – it was about 3mm by 1mm. Now that’s powerful for getting ideas about scale across!
The afternoon was spent at the Advanced Materials Laboratory (AML). AML is located alongside the University of New Mexico. There are about 110 people on site, but only 15 of these are ‘Sandians’ – the rest are students from the high school (Albuquerque institute for Math & Science – AIMS ), Central New Mexico Community College and University of New Mexico participating in research projects.
As well as looking over the facilities we were shown some examples of student outreach activities. Bernadette Hernandez-Sanchez has developed an excursion for elementary students called ‘CSI: Dognapping’. Students are brought to the centre to see a magic show, but find out the star dog has been kidnapped! They then work though a series of clues, some involving nanotechnologies, to discover the culprit. The program has had exciting results in the way students think about science after the program. AML also has a 5D rapid prototyper called ‘Cookie’ which is called into duty to demonstrate the technology by writing chocolate text on graham crackers. Delicious!
Overall the visit was a good insight in the research facility and I gained a better understanding of micro and nanotechnologies as well as setting up opportunities to share ideas regarding eduction. Thanks to everyone who took the time to talk with me. A special thank-you goes to Dominique Wilson for organising my visit, and to Pete Oelschlaeger, my host for the day, for showing me around Sandia and Albuquerque.