NanoTechnology & Microsystems  
Electrical Engineering Degree Option  



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The Nanotechnology and Microsystems Option provides electrical engineers with exposure to the challenges of designing and building devices and systems that operate at micrometer and nanometer length scales.

The invention of the transistor in 1947 and of the integrated circuit in 1958 led to a relentless miniaturization of electronic technology.  This drive continues, but further reduction in dimensions is leading to the need for new types of devices as quantum effects become important.  Electrical engineers are increasingly expected to design circuits that involve these effects. Current graduates may find that by mid-career devices and systems are based on totally new technologies.  The option aims to prepare students for this transition to ultra small scale electronics.

Relentless Technology. Integrated circuits are now nanotechnology, with feature sizes being less than 90 nm. Improvements in the resolution with which circuits can be patterned (diagonal line above) have led to a doubling in the number of transistors in an integrated circuit every two years since the sixties. Image credit:

A second equally important technology direction is that electrical engineers are being asked to put more and more functionality on a chip, integrating sensors and actuators with electronics. The development of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that employ methods used to fabricate integrated circuits in order to produce mechanical, optical, fluidic, bio-assay, radio frequency and other components, is greatly extending the reach and challenge of electronics.  A key objective of the option is to prepare students to lead teams developing such diverse systems. In order to do so option participants are exposed to some basic mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer and fluidics that are not normally taught in an electrical engineering program. Two elective courses introduce biological concepts relevant to sensing, medical devices and bio-inspired nanotechnology.

Option participants take five fourth year elective courses.  Three of these must be related to the option. They provide an opportunity to learn about current technology and new directions in optics, silicon-based technologies, integrated circuit design, micromechanical devices, biomedical sensors and implantable devices.

Option selection is typically made at the end of March in the second year of an Electrical Engineering degree program. Forms are typically available on the departmental web page.

Circuits of the Future?
The crossed wires shown are 1 nm diameter
hollow tubes whose walls are a single carbon atom thick. The junction as imaged (top) and simulated (bottom) might form the next generation transistor. These carbon nanotubes may also provide exceptionally thin, low resistance device interconnects due to the ballistic nature of their conduction. One of the challenges is putting the tubes where they are needed. Courtesy Dr. Alireza Nojeh.

Micromotors and Sensors
Mechanical parts are etched in silicon, producing an electrostatic motor and capacitive sensors similar to those routinely used in automotive airbag accerlerometers. Courtesy Dr. Edmond Cretu.


The Sizes of Living Organisms. The NanoTechnology & MicroSystems Option uses atomic properties to describe nanometer and micrometer scale devices (e.g. transistors) that are often components of millimeter scale systems.

Last Modified on March 13th, 2007 -- Copyright 2004-2007 University of British Columbia.