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News Release

MAE Undergrad Goes Nano and Makes the Cut

San Diego, CA, September 15, 2008 -- Michael Clark, an aerospace engineering major at the Jacobs School, has known since the eighth grade that he wanted to be an engineer. Last year, he became one of the dozens of undergraduate student engineers and researchers at the UCSD division of Calit2 when he joined Calit2’s Nano3 Cleanroom Facility staff.

Clark, an aerospace engineering major, performs a number of tasks inside and out of the cleanroom areas. His primary job is in back-end processing, a lab outside the actual cleanrooms, where he operates a precision dicing saw machine (the Disco Automatic Dicing Saw 3220), which is used to make a variety of very precise, micro-scale cuts into semiconductor wafers. The dicing saw can make cuts that are 30 microns wide, which is significantly narrower than the width of a human hair, which is 100 microns across.

Michael Clark
MAE undergrad Michael Clark works with nanofabricated sample at Nano3.
"Michael has been doing an outstanding job for us," says Bernd Fruhberger, manager of Calit2's Nano3 Cleanroom Facility.

"They give me a lot of responsibility in that they let people directly schedule with me," says Clark, "The researchers email me their specifications, they have such and such sample that needs dicing into quarters, lengths, or any number of ways, and I schedule a time to meet with them." The samples, usually semiconductors, can be made of silicon oxide, sapphire, quartz, glass, gallium phosphide and other materials. Mostly, the researchers have fabricated them in the cleanrooms. Many have multiple nano-devices on a single sample. The post-processing is needed before further research can be carried out.

"Each type of material requires a different approach to dicing it," explains Clark, "because each responds differently to the various types of saw blades. Each sample is like a little engineering problem. At first, I had to sit down and think and plan about how I was going to do each and every one. Now, some are easy to plan, it comes with experience."

"I've learned way more than I expected when I first took this job," Clark explains, "Coming from mechanical and aerospace engineering, I don't get much into the nano-world, the chemistry and physics involved. One of the joys I get from my job is learning this perspective that I'm not familiar with. And I take full advantage, while the researchers and grad students are waiting for their sample to be cut, sometimes, I'll talk to them about their projects and what they're doing."

Clark received most of his training from Larry Grissom, Nano3's lead equipment engineer, whom Clark says "knows it all." In addition to Nano3 manager Fruhberger and Grissom, Clark also works with Maribel Montero, a senior development engineer, Ryan Anderson, a microfabrication process engineer and other students.

This past summer he received training on the scanning electron microscope (SEM) from Anderson and really enjoyed it. "It was really cool to learn because you get to see all sorts of stuff in the microscope," Clark enthuses, "Everybody knows about these microscopes from their science textbooks, but this was my first time actually operating and maintaining one; it was a lot of fun."

When he is not in class, studying or at Nano3 working, Clark is still very busy. He is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), which is a club on campus for students who design and build a variety of working aircraft and rocket models. He expects to be more involved with them this coming year, and looks forward to applying his experience to club projects.

A self-described "Navy brat," he has lived several places in the U.S. and even got to spend his first three years of high school in Italy, when his father, a clinical lab technician and officer in the Navy, was stationed at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily. His mother is a nurse who enjoys working in inner-city schools.

Clark is very good at seizing what opportunities have been available to him, whether they are related to school, work, or the armed services. While in high school in Italy, Clark was a distance and cross country runner on his track team, which had quite the benefit: "If you're on a sports team at a Department Of Defense high school, you get to travel to other military bases throughout Europe to compete," he explains, "My school was the farthest south, so we flew to the other schools; we were always going to Naples, or Rome, or Venice or Milan. It was one of those lifetime opportunities."

He has been involved with the ROTC since high school when he tried out the Navy ROTC and excelled at it (it was essentially an elective, with no future commitment required). He joined the U.S. Air Force ROTC (AFROTC) his freshman year at UCSD and has worked his way steadily up the ranks of more responsibility. This fall he will be the Communications Squadron Commander, responsible for the detachment website, any video production, public affairs, and providing readily available electronic information, as well as providing logistical support as needed.

He will also be the Assistant Director of Training for the Arnold Air Society, which is a large national organization that is formally affiliated with the Air Force Association. The society provides opportunities for AFROTC cadets to further their purpose and training of leadership, while also performing community service projects. He will be involved with the training of new candidates that want to join the organization. "In both of my positions, I am not only refining my own leadership dynamics," Clark points out, "But training the leadership skills of subordinates as well."

Cadet Clark has received numerous awards from the AFROTC and the Arnold Air Society, garnering 19 awards in all. He is pleased with all of his awards of course, but was particularly happy when he was named "Cadet of the Semester," for Fall 2006, which is awarded to the top cadet of the program at the host school, because he received it, as he points out, "during the most intense year of training in ROTC, sophomore year, the year before cadet field training." He is also particularly proud of receiving the "Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Award" last May, which is awarded to the cadet who excelled academically in a technical degree. "This meant a lot to me because my academics were recognized," says Clark.

Until he graduates, the AFROTC pays Clark's schooling and a monthly allowance and he attends weekly training. He will be commissioned into the Air Force upon graduation, with a minimum time owed to the Air Force of four years. He does not want to be a pilot; he plans to go into aerospace engineering and research. "The Air Force has a lot of good engineering programs," he says. He does not know yet whether he'll stay in the Air Force after commitment period, "I'm going to do whatever allows me to continue to do my job as an engineer best."

A project researching possible careers from an eighth grade teacher set Clark off on a trek into aerospace engineering and now, working at Nano3 has helped to both expand and refine his goals to the disciplines of materials science and/or microfluidics. His younger sister just began seventh grade in the same school that Clark attended and he hopes that she will have the same teacher and receive the same assignment when she's in the eighth grade. "I'll be there helping her," says big brother.

His immediate future? Clark begins his senior year at UCSD next week. Due to his AFROTC schedule, he will not graduate until 2010. He plans on staying at Nano3 for those two years, continuing to learn. "There is always an opportunity for me to learn something new at Nano3," Clark sums up, "And that is the best part of working there. The staff, the students and outside researchers, are always happy to share their knowledge."


Media Contacts

Maureen C. Curran
Calit2 Communications