Colin Shan's micro-LED-based internship is lighting his path to grad school. The materials science and engineering undergrad got a sample of what the next leg of his academic journey will look like at the University of Michigan's new Interdisciplinary Research Opportunity for Undergraduates in Semiconductor Technology program.
Written by Em Jankauski
URBANA, Ill. — We never stop thinking about tomorrow. Colin Shan certainly doesn’t. The materials engineering undergrad student got a taste of his future as an aspiring graduate student during his 10-week experience in the University of Michigan’s new Interdisciplinary Research Opportunity for Undergraduates in Semiconductor Technology program.
The program, supported both by UM and the Intel Corporation, has students researching the semiconductor technology stack — from algorithms, architecture, circuits, devices and materials all while being advised by chemical, chemistry, computer, electrical, materials, mechanical and physics faculty.
Shan’s task? Characterizing micro-LED samples, which are primarily used for display purposes in virtual- and augmented-reality technology.
“Those devices require a very high-resolution display and need more pixels per inch,” Shan said. “So the smaller the LED you have, the higher resolution you will get.”
That’s their primary purpose, but an additional application includes biomedical imaging.
Coming to life
By far, his favorite part of the program was experiencing the cleanroom, which has less dust and particles in the air so that a device isn’t contaminated during fabrication.
“The cleanroom experience is very important and fun because you don’t get much cleanroom experience unless you take some of the fabrication courses back at school,” Shan said. “Just getting exposed to the cleanroom early on is a very good experience to have.”
He also took pure joy in seeing the micro-LEDs come to life.
“Just seeing the micro-LEDs on a very, very small scales and seeing a device light up when you excite it with a laser . . . It’s a very small thing, but you can see the light with your eyes, and I think seeing the device work is such an exciting aspect,” Shan said.
Life after Illinois
Shan’s already starting to think about life after Illinois with hopes that this experience will catapult his dream of getting into a top-notch graduate program.
“It gives me perspective of what the life of a grad student is like,” Shan said. “As an undergrad student conducting research at UIUC, you have classes you have to focus on, and research is more so done in your free time after class; you put less focus on it.”
“But during the summer,” Shan added, “you’re only focus is being in the lab for more than eight hours a day, and you see how people work and their work ethics. It helps show me get a sense of what the expectations are of a grad student working a fuller research experience.”
That’s exactly Shan’s advice to his fellow undergrads interested in either an industry or academic track: Dabble in research as much as possible.
“Having a lot of research experiences are important, and I do undergraduate research here at UIUC of course,” Shan said. “But I think during the summer, it’s so important to get a different perspective and work on different projects.”
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This story was published August 30, 2023.