Thursday, July 21, 2011

2011 ISAS Academy 1 Day 5

After returning from NASA Ames Research Center, the students were able to rest for a little while before continuing to visit more places. With a quick and early breakfast, the students piled into a coach which took them to Micron Technology for a day of exploration around a worldwide manufacturer of electronic goods. For those who do not know, Micron specializes in creating revolutionary memory units for computers and other devices. As the students were led into the factory, they were brought into a small conference room. While in the room, the students were shown a slideshow and video detailing the products and applications of the memory units manufactured by Micron.

The students were also fortunate enough to receive a personal visit by the Vice President of Memory System Development, Dean A. Klein. Mr. Klein further demonstrated the uses of memory in everyday devices by drawing a simple diagram which simplified a system that is used in practically every electronic device. He also showed the students a quadricopter (a small toy helicopter flown by four blades), which was controlled by an Ipad 2. The quadricopter helped reinforce the concept which Dean Klein was attempting to stress to the students: almost all electronics require some form of memory to function. He also showed the students a presentation which showed to the students a recent technology known as solid state drives which are thinner and more reliable than the more common computer hard drives.

After Dean’s presentation, the students were taken to the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of Micron where all the laboratories for their chip research. Once there, the students were further split into smaller tour groups. One presentation, at the Central Lab, was done by David Fillmore who described to the students his job as an “electronics CSI” and the methods he employed such as using X-ray spectrometers which enabled Dave and his co-workers to scan the surfaces of the test wafers. Other exams included studying the crystals of the wafers in order to determine the composition and, in a sense, better the production method of the final products, and using a mass spectrometer to determine more properties of the silicon by its mass.

The next stop for the students was the Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) in which the members working there showed the students that to get a sample ready for the TEM, it had to be reduced and already micrometer thick sample down to nanometer thickness. They also learned that Micron is one of very few places, if not the only place, to have four electron microscopes working at the same time. Though what impressed the students the most was the “images” of the microchips that were being tested in the microscopes. When asked if they could have copies of the atom-sized images, the engineers responded by telling them that it would be simpler to take a black and white photo of their own denim jeans.

Leaving the electron microscopes behind, the students headed towards some of the fabrication labs where Micron tests new developed method of producing parts in a more economic, sustainable, and efficient matter. The students were shown robots that instantaneously assembled the microchip parts. But the main attraction of the day was the lunch that awaited the students back in the small conference room used by the Micron Foundation. The lunch, which consisted of chicken fajitas, Spanish rice, and brownies, was jumped upon by the hungry, yet satisfied students as they awaited the next big thing on the program: the rocket launch at Simplot Field.

Upon completing the visit to Micron, the students were taken to Simplot Fields in order to witness a rocket being launched. After spending a good portion of the day inside Micron, the students were visibly refreshed by the sunlight and fresh air. Although there were some technical difficulties with launching the rocket, the launch was eventually successful, causing all the students to shield their eyes and follow the screaming rocket as it ascended higher and higher. Upon reaching its zenith, the rocket plummeted back towards the crowd of students until its parachute deployed. The students erupted in cheers as the rocket slowly floated back down and landed only a few hundred feet away.

That evening, the students had a fun evening of eating dinner at the union, listening to a presentation by Dan Isla, and rock climbing. Dan Isla’s presentation was centered on the Mars Science Laboratory, a new ‘super’ rover that is going to be launched for Mars this Fall. Dan told his story to the students and even showed them a video concerning the vehicle’s entry and landing on Mars’ surface. The Mars Science Laboratory plans to land on the planet using a revolutionary new method known as “Sky Crane.”

Students listening to Dan Isla's presentation

Students and Dan interacting across the country

Afterwards, the students spent the evening burning off some steam by rock-climbing and slack-lining. Many of the students literally rocketed up to the top of the rock-wall and did amazingly well. All the students needed some time to relax and release some stress.

Hanging on by fingertips

Chris Hill reaching the top

These blogs will continue to be uploaded daily, once the students have completed their final activities each night. A more "live" version of the days' events are being uploaded onto the ISAS Summer Academy Facebook group and page, as well as to Twitter at ISAS_Academy. The students are eager to continue work on their missions as they prepare for the last day of work on their mission and presentations.

--Andrew Schrader and Jaime Guevara--

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