What you will study
The module examines the development of micro- and nano-scale devices in terms of their engineering and operation. Mechanical, electrical, chemical and biological engineering of these ‘small worlds’ is revolutionising our lives through devices smaller than the eye can see. Aspects of this ‘unseen’ engineering are investigated in the light of scientific principles and the practical constraints they impose. A selection of applications, chosen to illustrate how engineering solutions are achieved on the micro and nano scales, is described.
The printed study materials are divided into three main themes together with a supporting text book as an introduction to the subject of nanotechnology. The module is accompanied by a DVD-ROM.
Structural and inertial systems
The techniques of micro- and nano-fabrication have been successfully applied to a wide range of mechanical, electromechanical and purely structural devices. The first part of this block takes an example of a particular atomic scale mechanism whose exact form is crucial to its performance. Through examining the details of the manufacturing techniques available and how they affect both the composition and the shape of the mechanism, you will discover just how inextricably they are connected. Part two goes a stage further and looks at an inertial sensor, asking the question ‘Why are successful micro- and nano-engineered devices not simply miniature, scaled-down versions of their conventional counterparts? The laws of nature, although universal, make the world at these small scales quite alien to our common experience.
Electronic and optical devices
The success of microelectronics has always been based on a very shallow layer of semiconductor. So progress has always been in the direction of smaller components, packed more closely together, albeit over wider areas. Just before its fiftieth birthday, silicon-based electronics was miniaturised to the point where an electronically captured copy of an optical image could threaten conventional film and photocopier technologies. Part one of this block explores how this came about. The second part reveals how various electrical manipulations of organic molecules provide the means to render such electronic images instantly visible, once again combining fine, shallow structures extending over relatively large areas. The opto-electronic revolution has turned our world inside out.
Working with nature
Nature provides us with a stunning array of highly sophisticated nanoscale ‘machinery’, brought to our attention as we explore ever smaller scales. Nature’s nano-machines tend to be soft, wet and sticky. In part one of this block you will see how these designs are ideally suited to the nanoscale and appreciate how molecules are able to ‘self-assemble’, to produce complex structures from the bottom up. In the second part, practical examples will be used to demonstrate how principles similar to those that operate in nature can be applied, both for constructing nanoscale devices and also for interacting with biological systems at the molecular level.
If you are considering progressing to The engineering project (T452), this is one of the OU level 3 modules on which you could base your project topic. Normally, you should have completed one of these OU level 3 modules (or be currently studying one) before registering for the project module.