A few weeks ago, I got an email from Marie LaBrie at MCA Public Relations, asking whether my daughters might be interested in participating in the Phoenix AZ session of SEMI High Tech U, sponsored this year by EV Group, ON Semiconductor, ASML and the Fab Owner’s Association. It sounded like fun, and I encouraged the girls to give it a shot, only to get an unenthusiastic eye roll. Technology geeks, they refuse to be. I, however, was all over it and asked if I could attend and write about it in 3D InCites. What’s more, I brought along a local videographer, Steve Rayle, to capture the day visually (coming soon to a YouTube channel near you). The day turned out to be the most fun I’ve had in a while, and ALMOST wanted to make me turn the clock back to my high school days so that I could sign up myself. Did they even have things like that back then? If they did, I never heard about them. Maybe it would have inspired me to go into a technology related field in college! Because basically, that’s what SEMI High Tech U is all about.
I got the low-down from the local project coordinator, Xaxiri Yamane, Maricopa Advanced Technology Education Center, who organizes the program for Arizona on behalf of the SEMI Foundation. Local high-school age youth (mostly sophomores and juniors) interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) but don’t quite know what they want to do are invited to participate in 3-day sessions to exposed them to what technology is all about. “We target 14-16 year olds, because it gives us the chance to influence classes they want to take.” she said, adding that the only criteria is an interest in technology. There are no grade requirements. Candidates complete a two-page application answering two basic questions: 1. Describe your extracurricular activities, and 2. describe your interest in high tech and reasons for applying to the program. “We’re looking for students who put thought and effort into their application,” she noted. Each session admits 36 or so students. This particular session had 43 attendees chosen out of an application field of about 80.
There is no cost for attending SEMI High Tech U. Each program, which costs $30,000 to produce, is funded entirely by the industry through corporate sponsorship. In addition to financial support, sponsors provide volunteer instructors, class room space, and venue tours. LaVitta Cooks, Human Resources director at ON Semiconductor, said the company’s motivation for sponsoring is to plan for the future of the high technology industry, to prepare our youth for the field and give them the opportunity to learn. “There’s a need for this. Unless we reach out to the local community, there’s going to be a shortage of local talent to draw from.” she explained.
The agenda for the week was divided into 3 days; one day at ON Semiconductor was devoted to hands-on activities such as the Hacky Sack Catapult, used to demonstrate how medieval technology relates to modern day chip making in a math and statistics exercise called “Statapult”. Day two, the one I attended, was a mixture of hands-on activities and a tour of the facility. Day three, took the group back to ON Semiconductor for Career Day, which gave students the opportunity to learn about different career paths and college opportunities, and practice interviews.
When we arrived at EVG headquarters in Tempe, the students were busy learning about how integrated circuits (ICs) work using portable electronics labs. Next, a quick lesson on binary addition was followed by a team challenge called the human calculator, in which the students demonstrated input and output on giant, Twister-like boards, racing against each other to solve binary addition problems. The lesson was loss on me – completely. Turns out I’m binary challenged. One student did a great job of explaining it in great deal, which made perfect sense for about ten seconds, but when I tried to reiterate it, I came up blank. (Suffice it to say there’s a reason I didn’t become an engineer).
The nanotechnology lesson, taught by Ron Miller of EVG – was much more my speed. Using plastic cylinders, vinegar, food coloring and alka seltzer, he guided students through an experiment to demonstrate how smaller particles react faster in a chemical reaction. In one tube, a student placed food coloring, water and a whole alka seltzer. In a second tube, he placed food coloring, water, and a pulverized alka seltzer. Vinegar was poured into the tubes simultaneously to see which reacted more quickly. Not surprisingly, the pulverized alka seltzer caused a quicker reaction. The student conducting the experiment explained, “When we crushed the alka seltzer, we did some of the dissolving for it.” I thought that was an interesting way to explain the effects of increased surface area.
The last activity was one I’m particularly fond of, having performed that particular challenge myself on more than one occasion. That was “bunnying up” for the clean room in a bunny suit. After a detailed demo on the proper suit up protocol, the race was on to see who could suit up the quickest in the right way. A tour of the clean room followed.
There were times I wished my daughters were sitting in that room listening and learning, and not just for the technology lessons. They are soon to graduate and embark on their career paths. It would have been nice for them to hear Ron Miller encourage the students to “find something you love to do, that you have a passion for, whether its technology, science, or something else, because you’re going to be doing it for a long time.” The other words of wisdom were offered by Steve Dwyer, Vice President and General Manager, EV Group North America, who noted that success does not come without hard work. He encouraged the students to go after their goals with vigor and dedication, and echoed Miller’s sentiments of doing something you have a passion for. If these kids learn one thing from this experience, I hope it’s that. — F.v.T.