Sensors and Surface Technology Partnership for Education and Research
In 1995, the Faculty Senate at the University of Rhode Island approved a plan to support multidisciplinary research-educational partnerships. The goal of these partnerships was to encourage multidisciplinary research that emphasized student research and outreach to the non-academic community. In support of this program, Robert Carothers, President of the University, wrote, “It will be into these partnerships that we will put our precious resources, including institutional funding for research and services, matching money for federal and private grants, graduate assistantships, and undergraduate [support].” Five criteria were used to select the Partnerships: 1) relationship of the Partnership’s goal to the mission and reputation of the University; 2) criteria capacity of the participating personnel to succeed; 3) likelihood of the Partnership achieving external funding and reaching self-sustaining status; 4) opportunities for student collaboration; and 5) curricular and service opportunities that the Partnership could provide. Out of ten proposals, the Provost’s Office selected four Partnerships that best met these criteria. Thus in 1996, the Sensors and Surface Technology Partnership (SST) was created. The Partnership currently consists of faculty members from the Departments of Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Food Science, and several different Universities. The primary focus areas established by the SST include microsensors, nanofabrication and microstructural engineering, coatings for corrosion resistance, and integrated circuits.
The University funded SST for its initial three years. These funds have been used to create a state-of-the-art Microscopy Laboratory in the newly constructed Chester H. Kirk Technology Laboratory. Included in this laboratory are an Atomic Force Microscope/Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (AFM/STM) with near atomic level resolution, a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS) capabilities for elemental analysis, a low vacuum, Environmental SEM with EDS and gunshot residue analysis capabilities, an Optical Microscope with digital video output, and an Infrared Microscope (IR). In addition to this, in conjunction with the Thin Film Laboratory and the Rhode Island Center for Thin Film and Interfacial Research, SST maintains a Perkin-Elmer Surface Analyzer with Auger Spectroscopy, ESCA (XPS), and SIMS capabilities.
The SST has built extensive relationships with corporations throughout Rhode Island and the United States. The University funded the Partnership approximately $375,000 in its first three years. These funds have been used to match over $200,000 in equipment donations. The average annual external funding of faculty members in the SSTP was $1.1 Million in the second year of operation. Since its creation, the SST has worked with over 40 corporations. Some of the Rhode Island companies the Partnership has done research for are AT Cross, Cherry Semiconductor (now ON Semiconductor), American Power Conversion, Alpha Omega Instruments, American Silicon Products, Copperweld, DB Thin Films, Electro-Films, Elmwood Sensors, Tanury Industries, DeWal Industries, and Technical Materials, Inc. The SST has, as well, done work for the likes of Pfizer, Video Display Corporation, and other large national companies.
The Partnership also provides the opportunity for extensive student participation. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty with backgrounds in engineering and the physical sciences form links with industry to solve real-world problems in an environment that fosters cooperation from all of the participating groups. SST annually provides seed funding for these activities to support student activities. In return, students present their research results in the weekly SST seminar and at the annual poster presentation.
This "New Culture for Learning" was presented as a feature article in ChemTech magazine in the December, 1998 issue.