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EE 21N: Making at the nanometer scale: A journey into microchips

Deposition Chamber by Brooklyn National Laboratory via Flickr.

General Education Requirements


Course Description

Have you ever wondered what is inside your phone and your computer? What physical events happen in between the time you press the “search” button and the information shows up on the screen? 

In this course, we start with the classic paper by Richard Feynman, "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom," which laid down a challenge to the nanotechnologists. Today’s microchips are nanotechnology in action. Transistors are nanometer scale. We will introduce students to the tools of nanotechnologists and the basic elements of nanoscale science and engineering such as nanotubes, nanowires, nanoparticles, and self-assembly. We will visit nanotechnology laboratories to consolidate our learning, go into the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility (SNF), and do a four-week project on nanofabrication. Hands-on laboratory work will be introduced (e.g., lithography, seeing things at the nanoscale using electron microscopes). We will learn how to build transistors from scratch and test them.

Learning Objective

Have you ever wondered what happened after you pressed the key to do a Google search? What are the advances in technology that made that happen? Can some of the same technologies be applied in various fields such as biomedical research and finding solutions to renewable energy?

Students will develop an understanding of the scientific basis of nanotechnology and be exposed to nanotechnology from a broader societal perspective. Students will also be exposed to the latest research advances in nanotechnology that may have impact on daily life. Specifically, students will learn how microchips are made. Hands-on laboratory work will be introduced (e.g. lithography, seeing things at the nanoscale using electron microscopes).

Meet the Instructor: H.-S. Philip Wong

H.-S. Philip Wong

"The entire Internet is based on things that are really small—nanometer scale electronic devices that are the basis of computer chips. How are today's computer chips made? For 16 years before coming to Stanford as a professor, I did research at IBM on making computer chips. What will tomorrow's computer chips be made of? This is the question I want to get answers to for my research at Stanford."Professor Wong's research interests are in nanoscale science and technology, semiconductor technology, solid state devices, and electronic imaging. He is interested in exploring new materials, and fabricating techniques and novel device concepts for future nanoelectronic systems. His research includes building computers using nano-materials, inventing the next generation memory chip for data storage, and building tiny chips that go inside the living cell for diagnostics and monitoring.

"Some time ago, someone posed this question to me: 'What comes after the computer chip?' Having spent most of my career on advancing semiconductor technology, which is the physical foundation of the computer chip, I find this question worth thinking about. So I wrote this blog on Slate."

Professor Wong is also the producer of a widely viewed educational video on carbon nanotubes on YouTube. In a recent episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything from May 25, 2022, Professor Wong explains “How to develop ever-better computer chips.” Check it out!