Student-led conference charts the future of micro- and nanoscale research, reinforces scientific community

Image showing co-chairs of the Microsystems graduate committee.

2023 marked the 19th year for the student-led Microsystems Annual Research Conference. Pictured is the 2023 graduate student committee with faculty leads. Front row, left to right: co-chairs Maitreyi Ashok and Jennifer Wang, Duhan Zhang, Matthew Yeung, and Aya Amer. Back row, left to right: MIT.nano Director Vladimir Bulović, Mansi Joisher, Beth Whittier, Will Banner, Adina Bechhofer, Kaidong Peng, MTL Director Tomás Palacios, and Jaidi Zhu. Not pictured: Patricia Jastrzebska-Perfect, Milica Notaros, Narumi Wong, and Abigail Zhien Wang. Photo: Tom Gearty/MIT.nano

Snowshoeing and microelectronics are not often mentioned together in the same sentence, but at the Microsystems Annual Research Conference (MARC), winter activities, technical talks, and poster sessions all combine for a two-day flurry of research celebrations.

Returning to the Omni Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire on Jan. 24-25 for the first time since before the pandemic, MARC gathered over 240 MIT students, faculty, staff, and industry partners to chart the future of microsystems and nanotechnology. Now in its 19th year, the student-run conference is organized by the Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) and, since 2020, co-sponsored jointly with MIT.nano.

In a letter to attendees, MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) graduate student co-chairs Maitreyi Ashok and Jennifer Wang laid out the goals of the conference: “to celebrate the scientific and technical achievements of the past year, to revisit and redefine our roles as researchers in ever-shifting sociopolitical contexts, and to acknowledge the precious and resilient community that we have built and maintained together.”

The theme for MARC 2023 was metamorphosis to a new era of innovative microsystems. “We wanted to reflect the ongoing transition of tools from MTL to MIT.nano, as well as national and international developments in the microsystems community following the recent global chip shortage and passing of the CHIPS and Science Act,” explained Wang, a third-year graduate student in Assistant Professor Kevin O’Brien’s Quantum Coherent Electronics group. “This theme symbolizes change, growth, and a renewed energy in our research goals.”

In addition to Ashok and Wang, the core planning group included MTL graduate students Will Banner, Adina Bechhofer, and Patricia Jastrzebska-Perfect, all from EECS, as well as Narumi Wong of the Department of Chemical Engineering (ChemE) and Duhan Zhang of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE).

“The planning of MARC truly would not have been possible without the support of the student committee, staff, and MTL and MIT.nano directors,” said Ashok, a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Energy-Efficient Circuits and Systems group, led by Dean of Engineering and EECS Professor Anantha Chandrakasan. “Thanks to the efforts of our committee, we effectively integrated lessons and tools from the past two virtual MARCs with an in-person experience. We were thrilled to be able to facilitate face-to-face meetings between students and industry partners from the MTL Microsystems Industry Group and MIT.nano Member Advisory Panel, as well as bring back winter activities.”

The return to the Omni Mount Washington also brought the return of in-person poster sessions. The student committee recruited over 100 students to submit abstracts from 40 different research groups, the most groups ever represented at MARC.

“You are the rock stars”

“You should be ready to make history,” said Tomás Palacios, director of MTL and professor of electrical engineering, in his opening remarks. “We are at an amazing time in the history of semiconductors and microelectronics. You are the rock stars of the next 25 years of technology.”

This enthusiasm and eye toward the future continued with the opening keynote by Eileen Tanghal ’97, founder and general partner of Black Opal Ventures. Tanghal spoke about her career path since graduating from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in EECS and offered advice to current students: “Find your ‘nerd posse,’” “take a risk early in life,” “look for inelastic demand,” and “it’s OK to take a break,” among others.

She shared her experiences working for a startup and then as a venture capitalist while also raising a family. In closing, she came full circle back to MIT, explaining that she started Black Opal with a group of undergraduate classmates — all women — to invest in startups at the intersection of health and technology. “You will see, in 25 years,” she said. “You need to come up with this nerd posse that will support you decades into your future.”

The future of the semiconductor industry

The second day opened with a technical keynote from Ann Kelleher, executive vice president and general manager of technology development at Intel, who focused on the evolution of Moore’s Law. “We’ve just passed the 75th year of the transistor,” said Kelleher. “Six generations have worked in the semiconductor industry. You are the next generation. The future of the semiconductor and the innovation that’s needed to keep it moving forward at the same pace is in your hands.”

Both Kelleher and Tanghal spoke about the importance of scale — being able to go from one to many when creating a product, and what that will require. “It’s one thing to make one of them. That’s proof of concept. It’s a whole different thing to make millions of them,” emphasized Kelleher.

Then it was the MIT students' and postdocs' turn to showcase their work and visions for the future. Two poster sessions were divided into eight areas: electronic devices, integrated circuits, medical devices and biotechnology, power, materials and manufacturing, nanotechnology and nanomaterials, optics and photonics, and quantum technologies. Each category was carefully curated by one of eight MTL graduate student session chairs: Aya Amer, Mansi Joisher, Milica Notaros, Kaidong Peng, Beth Whittier, Matthew Yeung, Abigail Zhien Wang, and Jiadi Zhu.

Before the sessions kicked off, the researchers delivered 60-second lightning talks. Attendees voted for their favorite, and best pitches were awarded to postdocs Saurabh Nath (MechE) and Roberto Rodriguez-Moncayo (EECS), and graduate students David Morales Loro (EECS) and Hanrui Wang (EECS).

“The team of graduate student organizers has once again delivered a fantastic conference,” said MIT.nano Director Vladimir Bulović, the Fariborz Maseeh (1990) Professor of Emerging Technology. “I am impressed by the scope of activities MARC 2023 highlighted, the potential impact of the research described, and the professionalism of the student presenters. MARC conferences allow us to peer into the future, as envisioned by the next generation of inventors.  Every year it is a remarkable experience.”

MARC 2023 was held in conjunction with the QSEC Annual Research Conference, which took place on Jan. 23 and 24, also at Bretton Woods. MIT students and faculty, as well as industry affiliates, were encouraged to attend both events and experience a breadth of research and engineering in materials, structures, devices, circuits, and systems.

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