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Meet student researchers advancing microelectronics, additive manufacturing and energy

by | Apr 10, 2023 | Features, Students

Arizona State University electrical engineering major Humberto Delgado works with electronic components that could help data centers save energy as part of a research project with the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative. Delgado is one of many student researchers in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU helping to solve real-world problems through hands-on research. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

This article is the first in a two-part series highlighting student researchers and faculty mentors presenting at the Spring 2023 FURI Symposium on Friday, April 21. Read part two. Learn more about the symposium.

Exploring brain-inspired computing, creating 3D printing materials for biomedical sensors, predicting additive manufacturing success and making data centers more energy efficient are just some of the ways Arizona State University students are solving real-world problems through hands-on research.

Students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU can apply their classroom knowledge in a range of research pursuits. Their work delivers innovation that matters for challenges in data science, education, energy, health, security, semiconductor manufacturing and sustainability.

The Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, or FURI, and the Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering, or MORE, programs give students valuable experiences in which they spend a semester conceptualizing an idea, developing a plan and investigating their research question with a faculty mentor.

Students in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, or GCSP, have the option to conduct research as part of the program’s rigorous competency requirements that prepare them to solve complex global societal challenges.

These three programs enhance students’ ability to innovate, think independently and solve problems in their communities. They also benefit from the technical and soft skills they gain, which prepare them for their careers and pursuit of advanced degrees.

Twice per year, students who participate in FURI, MORE and GCSP are invited to present their research findings at the FURI Symposium. Learn about four Fulton Schools students participating in the Spring 2023 FURI Symposium. Meet them and more than 100 other student investigators at the event, which is open to the public, on Friday, April 21, 1–3 p.m. at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex on the ASU Tempe campus.

Hailey Warner (left), an electrical engineering junior, and Priyanka Ravindran (right), an electrical engineering senior, work on semiconductor-related research projects in the FURI program under the mentorship of Ivan Sanchez Esqueda (middle), an assistant professor of electrical engineering.

Hailey Warner (left), an electrical engineering junior, and Priyanka Ravindran (right), an electrical engineering senior, work on semiconductor-related research projects in the FURI program under the mentorship of Ivan Sanchez Esqueda (middle), an assistant professor of electrical engineering. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Electrical engineering majors Hailey Warner and Priyanka Ravindran are working on individual research projects in the FURI program that explore memristors, an electrical component of future microelectronics that has both memory and the ability to process data. These projects, mentored by Ivan Sanchez Esqueda, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, are among the first in a new semiconductor manufacturing research theme represented at the FURI Symposium. They are also sponsored by semiconductor foundry company TSMC. This new opportunity provides a way for the global leader in the semiconductor foundry business to support ASU students conducting exceptional research on semiconductors. 

Hailey Warner

Warner’s research explores the physics of 2D hexagonal boride nitride memristors, which are computing components made of a conductive ceramic material. These devices could be used in future neuromorphic, or “brain-inspired,” computing and improve machine learning hardware and neural networks. 

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What made you want to get involved in FURI and the project you’re working on?

I first discovered Dr. Ivan Sanchez Esqueda’s research in memristors via the FURI web page nearly two years ago. I became fascinated with this burgeoning field of neuromorphic computing and knew I wanted to one day participate in FURI for a chance to deepen my knowledge in a field beyond what classes could teach me.

After completing an electronic materials course and an internship at Intel, I reconnected with Dr. Sanchez Esqueda and he was very welcoming and excited to bring me into his lab.

How will your research project impact the world?

Neuromorphic computing revolutionizes how we view computer architecture by embedding memory within the processing unit, just like the human brain. The devices that make this possible? Memristors!

Think of memristors like a neuron. Not only can they store information, but when arranged together in certain ways, they can perform impressive computations with extreme haste and efficiency.

Memristors are an incredibly promising technology but they need to become more reliable. Through carefully testing and modeling these devices’ behavior, we can refine the manufacturing process and embed them in increasingly complex systems.

Did you have a particular “aha!” moment during your project?

My first “aha!” moment came when I observed a memristor in action at our lab’s probing station. When Mirembe Musisi-Nkambwe, Dr. Sanchez Esqueda’s very talented and helpful PhD student, first showed me a simple current and voltage test of the device, I suddenly grasped the concept of “switching” in memristors as we observed the resulting graph. Mirembe and I have had many more of these moments since!

Have there been any surprises in your research?

There are many physical processes that govern memristive switching, and learning about each one of them has come with its own intrigue. I have been surprised to see how slight changes in the memristor’s materials or structure can completely alter what is happening within the device on an atomic scale. This has easily been the most fascinating and rewarding aspect of the project.

How do you see this experience helping with your career or advanced degree goals?

Whether in industry R&D or academia, my goals have been set on research and scientific pursuit for quite a while. FURI exposes students to what this world is like. I hope to take both the technical, specific knowledge along with the soft skills I’ve acquired through FURI into graduate school and beyond.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?

Dr. Ivan Sanchez Esqueda has given me extremely valuable insight into the process of publishing — how to craft an exceptional research paper, how to judge which results matter, how to communicate clearly and more. If not for his advice, I wouldn’t have known exactly how to narrow the focus of my project to something useful (and also possible!) within a semester. Both he and Mirembe Musisi-Nkambwe have always encouraged me to ask questions and have always answered them with enthusiasm. FURI would not be possible without their patient and diligent mentorship.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

FURI is the perfect opportunity for students to participate in guided research and create real, meaningful results. It is also a great chance to work alongside field experts and glean valuable career advice. I would recommend FURI to any student who has a burning curiosity for a subject in their field or a technical problem they would like to explore in depth.

Learn more about Hailey Warner’s Spring 2023 FURI project.

Priyanka Ravindran

Ravindran seeks to improve machine learning through hardware in her FURI project by investigating the stacked layers of 2D materials present in neuromorphic computing devices. She hopes to further the effort of increasing computational efficiency in modern-day technology.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI and the project you’re working on?

I started to get more involved in Fulton Schools’ extracurriculars to gain experience, knowledge and awareness of the field of electrical engineering. As a third-year electrical engineering student, I took interest in circuit design and hardware development, which inspired me to find a project that contained these interests. I came across Professor Ivan Sanchez Esqueda’s page on the FURI website and became interested in his lab’s vision and work in neuromorphic computing.

I chose this project for the chance to explore the hardware side of neural networks, a field that I had been doing surface-level readings about in scholarly journals and online articles.

This project is based on integrating two powerful devices into one circuit, which involves applying the fundamentals that I have acquired in my courses to analyze the overall behavior of the devices in circuits.

How will your research project impact the world?

Neuromorphic computing, or bio-inspired computing, is now being popularly researched to discover a new computer architecture. The current and widely used computer architecture involves data computed from memory to the processor and from the processor back to memory. Neuromorphic computing, which is the architecture that mimics the brain’s way of processing information, involves larger quantities of data that are being parallelly processed and placed into memory locations. There is no single processing unit or memory location in the brain. If a computer could mimic the brain’s computational ability, it would be able to perform complex computations with much-improved efficiency.

What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher in this program? Did you have a particular “aha!” moment during your project?

My most memorable experience as a student researcher would have to be using the Kiethley Interactive Test Equipment for the first time. This is a type of semiconductor characterization equipment that runs a script containing a device testing environment.

In my project, the devices tested include the hexagonal boronitride memristor and the molybdenum disulfide field-effect transistor. Since the devices and the equipment are both so fragile, learning how to use the test equipment at first was a challenge. I learned the desired behavioral characteristics of each device through papers published by the Ivan Sanchez Esqueda lab along with other reference papers.

Individual device testing usually takes place on a single wafer, and the wafers contain several devices. Throughout the testing phase, multiple devices, unfortunately, do end up failing; I remember my one “aha!” moment was finally testing a row of devices by myself and finding a stable device to analyze with the characterization equipment.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

Since I primarily perform device testing, there is an expected output that I am always trying to find. When a device is supposed to exhibit a certain pattern and then shows a completely different output, those do come by surprise.

In terms of learning-based surprises, there are definitely new things that I’ll learn during every research meeting that I would have never learned before. Connecting it to the material being discussed in class is usually what’s exciting for me.

How do you see this experience helping with your career or advanced degree goals?

Hardware design and development is a field that I have always been able to see myself in. Pursuing research has really inspired me to gravitate toward a graduate degree in electrical engineering and establish a career in the ever-growing semiconductor manufacturing industry. Contributing to the advancement of new semiconductor devices and discovering their capabilities is something I would take great pride in being a part of. Research in particular comes with plenty of freedom as there is space to make mistakes and learn. My aptitude to learn quickly has developed while pursuing research and will continue to improve in graduate studies and industry. I am thankful for getting the opportunity to assist in this particular research within academia as it has inspired me to take my education to new heights and acquire significant skills I can apply in the future.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor? 

I have learned so much from the time I first started researching here at the Ivan Sanchez Esqueda lab. Every week, I get to witness him and his team of hardworking PhD students problem-solve and tackle challenges with device fabrication, testing and analysis. The most important skill that I have acquired is the ability to locate appropriate resources. Oftentimes, when I would like to learn more about a particular device I am testing, my mentors — Professor Ivan Esqueda, and the PhD student I work with, Jing Xie — would point me toward established and reliable papers. Now, I can pinpoint the characteristics of a source that has substantial and trustworthy information that I can learn and apply.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

The Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative is a significant step into what to expect in more advanced education and the corporate world. I would encourage other students to join this program as it promotes the ability to problem solve and motivates you to learn more within your field. Besides learning technical skills, many soft skills can be acquired as well. Skills such as patience and communication are exercised on a daily basis. With pursuing research comes needed patience due to newer developments; you won’t see what you want right away! Communication is also utilized when resources or other help is needed. With that being said, FURI is a great way to dip your foot into real-world applications.

Learn more about Priyanka Ravindran’s Spring 2023 FURI project.

ASU manufacturing engineering graduate student Chayaank Bangalore Ravishankar (left) works with Xiangfan Chen (right), an assistant professor of manufacturing engineering.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Chayaank Bangalore Ravishankar

Chayaank Bangalore Ravishankar (pictured at left), a manufacturing engineering graduate student, is exploring how piezoelectric materials can improve biomedical sensors and actuators. Piezoelectricity uses tiny crystals to convert physical motion into electric signals, and piezoelectric materials are sensitive enough to detect motion in objects as small as cells. By exploring the use of 3D printing to create piezoelectric materials with his MORE project faculty mentor Xiangfan Chen (pictured at right), an assistant professor of manufacturing engineering, Ravishankar hopes to contribute to their promising future in the biomedical industry.

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What made you want to get involved in MORE and the research project you’re working on?

3D printing has always fascinated me by its vast applications in the real world. I knew getting involved in this program would help me in gaining more knowledge in this field. I chose this project because it was a great opportunity to help the medical industry to obtain better results by its complex but fast-paced product outcomes. It would also help me in getting more information about additive manufacturing processes and their benefits.

How will your research project impact the world?

Piezoelectric 3D-printed parts have the potential to play a critical role in sensors where they can pick up slight changes and report them. This is very much needed in the medical industry. They are environmentally friendly and also have many applications for biomedical structures. They are both biocompatible and biodegradable, and have a promising future in the field of sensors and actuators.

What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher?

I get to learn something new every day in this program. By doing extensive research, we get to know that not every day will be a productive day. Some days we get defects or the yield will not be good. But the “aha!” moment will be the one when we find out the root cause of the defect and rectify it until we get a different defect in the future.

How do you see this experience helping with your career or advanced degree goals?

This project has given me the initial push toward a thesis-based degree, and also makes a great impact on my resume. To land a job in any industry’s research and development sector, companies will ask for prior experience and results that have made an impact, which can be gained through opportunities like MORE.

Why should other students get involved in MORE?

MORE projects are the best stepping stones toward research as the university provides students with an enormous amount of resources and also funds to get the required raw materials for projects. Students will have ample time to study previous papers about their research where they can gain in-depth knowledge about their field and then get hands-on experience in using the university laboratories’ state-of-the-art machines. Even students without prior experience in conducting research will get a chance to work under mentors that have real-life experience of what happens in the research world.

Learn more about Chayaank Bangalore Ravishankar’s Spring 2023 MORE project.

Zhengbin Chen (right), a senior engineering major focusing on the robotics concentration, works on an additive manufacturing model with his faculty mentor, Andi Wang, an assistant professor of manufacturing engineering.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Zhengbin Chen

Zhengbin Chen (pictured at right) combines his interest in data analytics and his engineering skills for his FURI project to build a model that will estimate the probability of a successful build with additive manufacturing techniques. Chen is working on this project with faculty mentor Andi Wang (pictured at left), an assistant professor of manufacturing engineering, which will help reduce waste and make the additive manufacturing process easier for all.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI? Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

I was thinking that I lacked the research experience to apply for a postgraduate program or a PhD, so I started to look for research opportunities at ASU and chose FURI. I think having research experience will help me better find a job and apply for a PhD in the future.

Data analysis is exactly the kind of research that I am looking forward to. The process of data analysis from scratch — from raw data at the beginning, to analyzing the relationship between data, to determining the relationship between data to establishing a model — is very interesting to me. I like establishing a relationship from chaos and disorder.

There are many aspects of Professor Wang’s knowledge that I want to learn. I think he is a very good and helpful professor.

How will your research project impact the world?

I hope this model can have an influence on making the world of 3D printing better. Everyone can use our model to predict the success rate of 3D printing.

No widely used 3D printing prediction success rate model exists today, and our model can be used to address this immediate need for people who often use 3D printing machines or companies that produce 3D printers.

Those who are interested in 3D printers can know the success rate of the manufacturing before printing their favorite models to avoid waste of materials, and companies that produce 3D printers can further amplify this advantage. If the model is added to the 3D printer itself and delivered to the customer together with the 3D printer, not only can the customer enjoy the benefit of this model, but the company can also use it to increase sales.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

There were many surprising moments. For example, I was very excited when my supervisor and I analyzed the data and we got a stable model. After obtaining the model, we found that its accuracy is very high, which means that people can use this model to accurately predict the manufacturing success rate of their 3D printing input.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?

Always work hard and always make progress.

How do you see this experience helping with your career and advanced degree goals?

This kind of research experience can make you stand out and the skills you learn can make you even better. Through this research experience, I have improved both my programming skills and my data analysis skills. I am more accurate in seeing the relationship between the data. At the same time, after this research, I want to get a doctorate in the field of data analysis even more and start working in the field of industrial manufacturing. In the future, I hope that I can be a professor at a university like Dr. Wang.

Learn more about Zhengbin Chen’s Spring 2023 FURI project.

ASU electrical engineering junior Humberto Delgado (foreground) works with Mike Ranjram (background), an assistant professor of electrical engineering, on a FURI project.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Humberto Delgado

Humberto Delgado (pictured in foreground) is an electrical engineering junior conducting research in the FURI program. With his mentor, Mike Ranjram (pictured in background), an assistant professor of electrical engineering, he is working on a solution to address the size and power requirements of power supplies that provide the energy for data centers. As our online presence continues to grow, miniaturizing power electronics and making them more efficient can better meet the energy needs of data centers more sustainably.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI? Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

I wanted to get more hands-on experience while being able to complete a project I am passionate about. I chose my project because this is a big step in the overall miniaturization of power electronics, which can mean more energy-dense power supplies.

How will your research project impact the world?

I hope this project can impact the world by showing how small power converters can get using Dr. Ranjram’s new transformer layout. Hopefully this will open the doors to research in optimizing power electronics, especially as we face a new era with large amounts of renewable energy.

What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?

The best advice from Dr. Ranjram has been that research is an iterative task that requires you to search your engineering toolbox for solutions.

What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher?

My most memorable moment as a student researcher would be when I was laying out the new printed circuit board I had to reduce inductances [when a circuit resists the electric charge running through a coil]. While working on the design, I remembered a principle I learned in an electromagnetics class used to reduce inductance.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

I am a first-time researcher and I have had to redo things to try to perfect a task, but this has helped me learn and develop problem-solving and design skills.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

FURI is a great way to gain experience and ultimately learn more about a certain topic and expand your engineering toolbox.

Learn more about Humberto Delgado’s Spring 2023 FURI project.

About The Author

Monique Clement

Monique Clement is a lead communications specialist for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She earned her BA in journalism from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. For seven years before joining the Fulton Schools communications team, she worked as an editor and journalist in engineering trade media covering the embedded systems industry. Media contact: [email protected] | 480-727-1958 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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