The nano sciences, unlike Mork’s universe, are not science fiction. The smaller the better is the mantra in the chip industry. At the Common Platform gathering this week, we were shown the benefits, and the challenges, of going smaller ? 32/28nm is old school. The latest craze being developed is 20nm. And a New York college is in the thick of the R&D.

Albany University’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) is the first college in the world dedicated to education, research, development and deployment in nano-everything: science, engineering, bioscience and economics. The college is a hub for major companies who are all pursuing leading edge technological innovations and using the college’s advanced $6.5 billion research facilities. The college exhibited at the event which was sponsored by IBM, Samsung and GlobalFoundries.

The facilities contain the only fully integrated, 300mm wafer, computer chip pilot prototyping and demonstration line within 80,000 square feet of Class 1 capable cleanrooms. On-site scientists, research teams, engineers, along with faculty and students, work side by side towards developing and commercializing new nanotechnologies.

Where the Boys Are was a movie and song made famous by Connie Frances in the 1960′s. Today, where the boys are is engineering school, where, sadly, the girls aren’t. That’s right, female engineers are few and far between as demonstrated by the audience at the Common Platform event that concentrated on chip manufacturing and nanotechnology.

CNSE is trying to change that. We spoke with Michael Liehr, pictured on the right, the man involved in what used to be science fiction – trying to make sense out of unknowns. Liehr received his PhD in physics from RWTH Aachen, Germany.

He specializes in advanced CMOS integration, 3D/packaging, advanced equipment and process control, in addition to electronic materials and processing. Professor dr. Liehr, who insisted I call him Michael, said the college is making an effort to bring women into the field.  Michael said:

Science is cool just as much for girls as for boys.

We are missing half of humanity.

He spends his time at the college as vice president of engineering 80-90 percent of his time, and only ten percent as a professor. He currently oversees two PhD students who are working on 3D integration and graphene integration.

He says his desire is to have "students be marketable and knowledgeable." The college works closely with the community and the companies who use their facilities to provide the workforce with competent individuals. The college attempts to attract a funding stream to create jobs in Albany.

Enthusiastically, Liehr describes the R&D college as a sandbox, where different models of how to use sandbox derive; you can do your own thing or be very public about your technological activities. CNSE enables foundries to work at Albany using the facility to innovate and keep innovation to themselves.

Many well known companies can be found at the college using CNSE as a resource for their research, including IBM, AMD, GlobalFoundries, Toshiba, Tokyo Electron and Atotech.

In addition, CNSE is hosting varied conferences for the nation’s decision makers on a regular basis, like the last year’s Mohawk Valley business and community leaders conference shown on the right image.

Liehr referred us to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), where we learned that although the demand for technology-savvy workers is growing three times faster than all other occupations, the percentage of women engineers in the workforce remains at approximately ten percent. SWE is a not-for-profit educational and service organization whose goal is to establish engineering as a highly desirable career aspiration for women.

They provide financial educational assistance to women who are aiming for careers in engineering, engineering technology and computer science. Last year, they provided scholarships valued at almost $500,000. The organization believes there is a need to share the excitement of engineering innovation and invention with girls in grades K-12. They see a need for education and awareness to start well before college and they conduct activities to fill that void.

SWE’s site profiles successful women. Tara Teich works at LucasArts creating Star Wars video games. Her first assignment: the Star Trek: Armada II game. She comments:

My parents didn’t really get the game, but they loved seeing my name in the credits.

More recently, Teich hand her hand in The Force Unleashed. Her specialty is game play and artificial intelligence, basically Tara and her team are the brains behind the characters in the game.

Katherine Bicer is involved in mechanical and materials engineering, working on engine parts for helicopters like Black Hawks, Seahawks and Apaches. In the military, and with LifeFlight helicopters in civilian life, Katherine points out that "helicopters often mean the difference between life and death."

She knows from personal experience, since her brother was carried by helicopter to a hospital during a life threatening situation. Part of her job is to find materials that can take the heat and stress to enable helicopters to fly higher and faster, getting their occupants there safely.

Judy Lee began with IKEA designing a children’s play mat with a team of engineers and product developers, which gave her a chance to use creativity and problem solving skills. She landed at IDEO in Palo Alto, California, an innovative design firm that created Apple’s first mouse. There she designed children’s toys, pet products and food and drug packaging. She says or her jobs:

I’m surrounded by brilliant people. It doesn’t really seem like work. It’s just plain fun!

The Women’s Engineering Society in the United Kingdom has been inspiring technical women since 1919. They have a pamphlet on how to and how not to connect with younger children to expose them to the world of science and engineering.

They remind members that "preparation and presentation is key as a poor student experience can have a more damaging impact on the perception of engineers and engineering than no contact at all." They also point out the differences in using mature or younger role models to present science and engineering to students in secondary schools.

For men or women who have decided to enter the extremely challenging field of nanotechnology, the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering offers BS, MS, PhD and MBA degrees in nanoscale science, as well as MS, PhD and MBA degrees in nanoscale engineering.

An MBA results in individuals who can integrate the best of two worlds, science and engineering with business and management skills. Students are educated in such topics as Nanoscale Electronic and Magnetic Properties, Molecular Materials and Solid State Quantum Theory.

In support of the college located in Albany New York, Papken Der Torossian an executive with Vistec Lithography says:

If you want to make movies, you go to Hollywood.

If you’re in the business of nanotechnology, you go to Albany.

One woman who answered the call, Mary Viola Graham, a Ph.D. candidate at the school, explains they work "alongside industry giants, right here on-site, on research that pertains to actual industrial problems." Those problems were brought out at the Common Platform sessions this week. Scaling from 28nm to 20nm isn’t as easy as it might sound. Much of the research being done to solve related issues is being done at the college’s facilities.