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A Conceptual Framework for the Development of a Course in Nano/Micro-Scale Systems Engineering

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As a result of intensive research and funding in recent years, nano/micro-scale systems are poised to have significant impact in a wide spectrum of engineering research, applications and practice. In this paper, our efforts to develop a multidisciplinary nano/micro-scale systems course for upper-level undergraduate and entry-level graduate students under the Nano/Micro Scale Systems Engineering NUE program are summarized, and its conceptual framework for cognitive understanding of nano/micro systems is detailed and discussed. In our approach, called Hierarchy-of-Objects , developing this framework is based on the fact that every system consisting of sub-systems and components, regardless of its length- or time-scale, is vertically integrated with a larger system, and its function, and complexity defines its place within its integration scheme. Materials are at the bottom of the Hierarchy-of-Objects paradigm, and an infrastructure is at the top. In covering various nano/micro-scale systems and associated fundamentals in this course, we use a number of levels in describing our integration scheme, as follows: Level 1 is starting materials, “the building blocks” for the nano/micro-world, including atoms, molecules (e.g., DNA/proteins), material phases; Level 2 is “Fabric/Patterns” which are repeating structures made/formed of Level 1 objects, including lattices, grains, layered nano-composites, graphene, and bone/nacre; Level 3 is “Objects/Structures” (i.e., parts) with finite dimensions and forms, including micro/nanoparticles, nanotubes, microcantilever beams, and cell membranes; Level 4 is “Devices” (components or sub-systems), self-contained systems performing a “ fundamental, yet simple single ” task, including transistors, sensing elements, and flagellae; Level 5 is “Systems,” consisting of Levels 1–4 integrated to perform complex tasks, including CPU chips, MEMS devices, and biological cells; Level 6 is “Infra-structures,” superstructures formed by connecting systems (Level 1–5), including national electrical grids, highway systems, and the human body. Finally, various collaborative efforts in the development of the course are also summarized.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2013

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  • The Journal of Nano Education (JNE) is a peer-reviewed international journal that aims to provide the most complete and reliable source of information on current developments in nanoscale science, technology, engineering, and medical education.
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