EE 238 Engineering nano-systems, Spring 2009.

A. F. J. Levi

OHE 230, 12.30pm - 1.50pm MW

EE238 poster

EE 238 outline in pdf form


EE 238 Outline and course content

This course is designed as an introduction to nano-technology, methods to control and exploit the new degrees of freedom delivered by nano-science, and the integration of nano-technology into systems. It is a hands-on experimentally-driven course in which participants can expect to gain practical experience working in small teams to design, implement, and explore device and system context of emerging nano-scale components.

The class meets 29 times and there are a total of 19 lectures during the course of the semester. There are also experiments that are performed in a laboratory environment. Each experiment involves more than one meeting of the class. Lectures are used to develop fundamental concepts, background material, and design capability. Homework includes elements of design, documentation, and preparation of presentations.

The course consists of experimental, design, and system integration modules. Each experimental module is associated with activities of research faculty and so represents the cutting-edge of nano-technology. It is anticipated that each experimental module will be updated annually to reflect the fast changing landscape of the underlying technology. Individual research faculty are responsible for the continued development of their specific module. Students wishing to obtain additional experience with more advanced aspects of a given module will have an opportunity in their final year to apply for directed research under the guidance of the appropriate research faculty.

The initial experimental modules include:

  1. Carbon nanotube transistor – Content supported by Chongwu Zhou

a.   A carbon nanotube can be viewed as a single layer of graphene rolled into a seamless tube with diameter around one nanometer and length up to several centimeters. Carbon nanotubes have remarkable mechanical strength and fascinating electronic properties. They have been studied for a variety of applications, including nanoelectronics, field emission, composite materials, chemical and bio-sensing, cancer treatment, and drug delivery. This module will explore transistors based on carbon nanotubes with electric contacts and gate electrodes. Electronic measurements will be performed on the carbon nanotube transistors, followed by data analysis to determine the transconductance and field effect mobilities. The extracted information will then be related to the physics of the transistor operation, and the students will be encouraged to create innovations in design that might result in nanotube transistors with even greater performance.

Background reading:

"Transport Measurements of Individual Semiconducting Singled-Walled Carbon Nanotubes of Various Diameters", C. Zhou, J. Kong and H. Dai, Applied Physics Letters 76, 1597 (2000).

"Nanotube Molecular Wires as Chemical Sensors", J. Kong, N. Franklin, C. Zhou, S. Peng, K. Cho, H. Dai, Science 287, 622 (2000).

Learn more at:

  1. ZnO FET and ammonia sensor – Content supported by Grace Lu and Chongwu Zhou
    1. There has been an increased emphasis on the early detection of chemical agents with improved sensitivity. Metal oxide nanowires have been found to exhibit superior sensitivity at room temperature to surface chemical processes in comparison to their bulk and thin film counterparts. The physical principle is based on the transduction of adsorbed chemicals on the sensor surface to a change in the electrical conductance. When the nanowires are configured as field-effect transistors (FET), the applied gate potential can effectively refresh the sensor. In this lab, you will first collect data on the current-voltage characteristics of ZnO nanowire FET, and determine charge concentration and field effect mobility. You will then explore how the conductance changes when the nanowire is exposed to NH3 gas, learn to determine the sensitivity, response time, and binding energy.

Background reading:

"Chemical Sensing with ZnO Nanowire", Z. Fan and J.G. Lu, IEEE Transactions on Nanotechnology 5, 393 (2006).

"High-performance ZnO Nanowire Field Effect Transistors", P. Chang, Z. Fan, C. Chien, D. Stichtenoth, C. Ronning, and J. G. Lu, Applied Physics Letters, 89, 133113 (2006).

"Gate-Refreshable Nanowire Chemical Sensors", Z. Fan and J.G. Lu, Applied Physics Letters 86, 123510 (2005).

Learn more at:

EE 238 Engineering nano-systems syllabus

Grading policy is 20% on homework, 30% on laboratory work, 20% on midterm exam, and 30% on the final exam.  While not a prerequisite, it is expected that individuals participating in the class have access to and experience with MATLAB to the level of EE150.

Meeting           Non-intuitive nano-device design

1                      Lecture 1:          Numerical tools: Introduction to programming in MATLAB

2                      Lecture 2:          Current: Introduction to electron current, potential, charge and current conservation. Concept of resistance, Ohms law, conductivity, mobility, and relaxation time approximation. Current-voltage characteristics of a single-electron transistor.

3                      Lecture 3:          Light: Introduction to refractive index, Snell’s law, impedance matching, reflection. Thin film optical filter.

4                      Lecture 4:          Optimal control: Searching for optimal device designs with a few free-parameters. Implementation of visualized 2-D problems using MATLAB and the concept of non-intuitive designs.

                                                               i.      Gradient-based optimization including steepest descent.

                                                             ii.      Guided random walk.


System integration

5                      Lecture 5:          Measuring small currents and voltages that vary in time

                                                               i.      Amplifier, noise, filtering, contact resistance

                                                             ii.      Oscilloscope and ADC

6                      Lecture 6:          Devices, packaging, and system integration

                                                               i.      Devices used to measure light level, temperature, humidity, and air pressure.

                                                             ii.      Thermal, mechanical, electrical, optical physical models

                                                            iii.      System integration of devices up to ADC

7                      Lecture 7:          Passing measured data to a system, USB standard interface, device drivers, manipulation and display of data.

                                                         i.            Data types, Bytes, ASCII, timestamp

                                                       ii.            Protocol stack

                                                      iii.            Manipulation of data using MATLAB

                                                      iv.            Display of data

8                      Laboratory 1:     Laboratory experiments using a USB device to monitor light level, temperature, humidity, and air pressure. Development of applications including a weather station.


9                      Exam on elements of material presented in the first 8 sessions.

MEMS accelerometer

10                     Lecture 8:          How a MEMS accelerometer works and is manufactured.

11                     Lecture 9:          Packaging, assembly, and integration of the accelerometer into a system.

12                     Lecture 10:        Writing application code for the accelerometer part I.

13                     Lecture 11:        Writing application code for the accelerometer part II.

14                     Laboratory 2:     Laboratory experiments using a MEMS accelerometer and application development part I.

15                     Laboratory 3:     Laboratory experiments using a MEMS accelerometer part II.

ZnO nanowire and ammonia sensor

16                     Lecture 12:        Fundamentals including introduction to the wide band gap metal oxide semiconductor ZnO.

17                     Lecture 13:        Introduction to diffusive electron transport including surface and interface scattering.

18                     Lecture 14:        Control. Chemical doping, temperature, UV, humidity.

19                     Lecture 15:        Technical challenges including contact resistance, the design of a sensor with chemical selectivity via response to gate voltage and temperature.

20                     Laboratory 4:     Laboratory experiments measuring the basic ZnO nanowire characteristics.

21                     Laboratory 5:     Laboratory experiments integrating a ZnO nano-sensor into USB measurement device and development of applications.

Carbon nanotube transistor

22                     Lecture 16:        Fundamentals, starting from the atom, chemical bonding, synthesis and electronic properties.

23                     Lecture 17:        Electron transport including ballistic transport. Geometry dependent contributions.

24                     Lecture 18:        Control. Electrical, material, and geometry.

25                     Lecture 19:        Technical challenges and introduction to experiments.

26                     Laboratory 6:     Laboratory experiments measuring the basic transistor characteristics of a carbon nanotube transistor.

27                     Laboratory 7:     Laboratory experiments integrating carbon nanotube transistor into USB measurement device and development of applications. 

                        Class presentations

28                     Presentation of results 

                        Final Exam

29                     Final exam on elements of material drawn from the 20-lecture course



Website that might be used for some modeling elements of the course is:

Textbook for carbon nanotubes:

“Carbon nanotubes : synthesis, structure, properties, and applications”, Editors: Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Gene Dresselhaus, and Phaedon Avouris. Published by Springer, Berlin; New York, 2001.

Textbook for basics on plasmons and Raman scattering

“Introduction to Solid State Physics”, Charles Kittel, Wiley, New York, 1996.  Plasmons p. 271, Raman p. 322.

Review papers on ZnO nanowires:

"Metal Oxide Nanowires: Synthesis, Properties and Applications", J.G. Lu, P. Chang, and Z. Fan, Materials Science and Engineering R 52, 49-91 (2006).

"Zinc Oxide Nanostructures: Synthesis and Properties" Z. Fan and J.G. Lu, Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology 5, 1561-1573 (2005).

A manual has been developed to describe operation of a USB device and its interface to a computer.  An example of a USB device that can be used for measurement of nano-electronic devices is shown below.  Electrical characteristics can be measured by mounting these devices on the gold substrate shown in the photograph.



Statement for Students with Disabilities

Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me (or to TA) as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.

Statement on Academic Integrity

USC seeks to maintain an optimal learning environment. General principles of academic honesty include the concept of respect for the intellectual property of others, the expectation that individual work will be submitted unless otherwise allowed by an instructor, and the obligations both to protect one’s own academic work from misuse by others as well as to avoid using another’s work as one’s own. All students are expected to understand and abide by these principles.

Students will be referred to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards for further review, should there be any suspicion of academic dishonesty.


Guest Lectures

Science of Carbon Nanotubes: Steve Cronin

Applications of CNT and oxide NWs: Koungmin Ryu


Student projects

Peter Attardo Project Report

William Branham Project Report and Presentation

Eric Coupal-Sikes Project Report and Presentation

Michael Fielkow Project Report and Presentation