2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Using Virtual Reality Cleanroom Simulation in a Mixed Nanoelectronics Classroom

Presented at Work in Progress Papers in ECE

Given the strategic importance of the semiconductor manufacturing sector and the CHIPS Act impact on microelectronics, it is more imperative than ever to train the next generation of scientists and engineers in the field. However, this is a challenging feat since nanofabrication education uses hands-on cleanroom facilities. Since cleanrooms are expensive, have access constraints due to safety concerns, and offer limited instructional space, class sizes and outreach events are limited. To complement instruction in nanotechnology education, there is some open- or educational-access software, which is computer-based and focuses only on training for individual equipment, not on the typical workflow for device fabrication. The objective of this work was to develop an accessible virtual reality ecosystem that provides an immersive education and outreach on device nanofabrication that is user-friendly for a broad range of audiences. At our university, a virtual reality cleanroom prototype has been developed. It consists of a 45-minute gameplay module that covers the process flow for the fabrication of micro-scale resistors, from sample preparation to electrical characterization.

We also performed a mixed methods study to investigate how 5 students in a nanoelectronics course utilized this virtual reality cleanroom prototype and what changes they recommend to improve its user interface and learner experience. The study population for this work-in-progress consisted of students enrolled in a nanoelectronics course at our university during the 2022-2023 school year. Students taking this course can be undergraduate (junior or senior) or graduate (masters or PhD). The research questions for this study were 1) what is the user experience with the virtual reality cleanroom prototype, 2) what challenges, if any, did students experience, and 3) what changes did students recommend to improve the virtual reality cleanroom prototype learner experience? Preliminary results indicate that the students found the virtual reality cleanroom simulator helpful in repeatedly exploring the cleanroom space and the nanofabrication process flow in a safe way, thus developing more confidence in utilizing the actual cleanroom facility. The results of this study will provide insight on the design of future modules with more complicated levels and device process flows. Moreover, the study could inform the development of other virtual reality simulators for other lab activities. The improved usability of the proposed software could provide students in large classes or attending online programs in electrical and computer engineering, as well as K-12 students participating in nanotechnology-related outreach events, the opportunity to conduct realistic process workflows, learn first-hand about nanofabrication, and practice using a nanofabrication lab via trial and error in a safe virtual environment.

  1. Dr. Natalie B. Milman The George Washington University [biography]
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