IMG_9508.jpgIn 1967, a popular new ride called Adventure Thru Inner Space opened in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. The ride, which simulated the experience of shrinking down beyond the size of an atom, was closed in 1985 to make way for more modern attractions. But if the research taking place in the Keck Advanced Materials Laboratory at CECS is any indication, today’s advances in nanotechnology are proving the designers’ vision prescient rather than outdated.

The Keck Advanced Materials Laboratory was established in 1995 to facilitate the integration of nanotechnology into undergraduate research. Nanotechnology, which operates on the scale of individual molecules, is driving such fields as microelectronics, materials processing and nanocomposites.

“One of the missions of the Keck Advanced Materials Lab is to provide opportunities for characterization of these materials in the very fine-scale nano range,” says Behzad Bavarian, chair of the Department of Manufacturing Systems Engineering and Management and director of the lab. “Because one nanometer is roughly equal to five atoms lined up next to each other, only very advanced, high-resolution instrumentation is capable of visualizing on that scale.”

Generous grants from the W. M. Keck Foundation have significantly advanced that mission, enabling the university to acquire two major pieces of instrumentation. In 2001, the foundation contributed $650,000 toward the acquisition of surface science equipment, making CSUN one of only a handful of labs with this instrumentation, which facilitates very high-resolution chemical analyses of substrates. More recently, the Keck Foundation contributed $500,000 toward the purchase of a field emission scanning electron microscope, which was installed in September 2009. In recognition of these contributions, in a dedication ceremony on February 18, 2010, the university named the lab in the foundation’s honor.

_DSC0047.jpgOne of the key ways the lab is used is in support of CECS’s undergraduate research program. Through the program, faculty research projects, funded by various corporations and government agencies, enable students at the sophomore level and above to gain firsthand experience with applied engineering research. These cutting-edge research experiences, carried out under the guidance of faculty mentors, motivate students, particularly those belonging to underrepresented minority groups, to pursue graduate studies in order to continue building a highly advanced workforce. Since the program’s inception in 1988, some 90% of the students who have taken part have gone on to earn master’s degrees.

The Keck Lab also supports CSUN’s interdisciplinary Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education Program, which includes nanotechnology modules in a number of engineering and science courses, as well as dedicated courses for seniors and graduate students.

“We predict that 10, 15, 20 years from now, nanotechnology will be the dominant technology in engineering as far as materials applications and processing,” Bavarian says. “That’s why the younger generation of engineers and scientists need to be exposed to it and be prepared for these challenging jobs.”