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Adam Christensen,
NSF Graduate Fellow

NSF GK-12 Project: Georgia Institute of Technology
URL: http://www.cetl.gatech.edu/services/step/overview.htm

Thesis Title: Heat Generation and Dissipation in High Power III-V Optoelectronic Devices

College/University: Georgia Institute of Technology

Research Advisor: Samuel Graham

Degree Sought

University Department and/or Lab
Mechanical Engineering

Research Focus
My research focuses on the fundamentals of how heat is generated and transported within high power electronic devices such as light emitting diodes and various types of transistors.

Description of Research
My research involves computational investigations into how heat is generated and dissipated in high power electronics. This primarily involves the use of finite element methods in order to simulate how devices operate under various conditions. The heat that is generated in these simulations needs to escape the packaging materials in order to prevent device failure from any number of common failure modes, i.e. stress cracking and delamination or excessive temperature. This work aims to add insight into how the electronics packaging materials effect the operation of these high power devices before failure as well as how to build proper packages to help prevent premature failure.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
I have always been interested in engineering in general, but during my undergraduate days became interested in how to teach engineering. I wanted to start an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter, but struggled to figure out how to gain support. When I came to graduate school, I joined the STEP program and then, with the help of EWB-USA and many others, formed the first official EWB high school chapter at Westlake High School.

During our meetings, we talk about a range of engineering topics (electronics, heat transfer, mechanics, etc) since we are involved in building a solar powered, and therefore portable, vaccine storage system. With this system, we hope to fill a need for a reliable, affordable, and easily transportable system to distribute vaccine to remote villages that might only be accessible by foot. We have also partnered with a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Arusha, Tanzania in order to research and build a solar cooker that we can teach villagers to build and maintain.

The goals of this EWB program are to provide an experience that the students would not forget and also to motivate them to enjoy and pursue engineering/science in the future. We are in the process of raising money in order to fund a trip to Tanzania—this would be an amazing experience for anyone in high school. Along the way, we have taken field trips to Georgia Tech’s campus to visit biology, physics, and mechanical engineering labs--including a visit to the Microelectronics Research Center’s cleanroom where students saw first hand how basic electronic components are made. It was exciting for everyone involved!

Another component worth mentioning about the EWB-Westlake High School chapter is the unending support of the Westlake administration. We have been able to incorporate some of the principles of EWB into the school’s curriculum for an “Introduction to Engineering” class. Students have set up mock companies, have had to perform their own market research, and this semester will be involved in designing their products (in this case the solar cooker). One of the key components of the market research was to open some cross-talking with the African Social Studies class in order to learn more about how best to implement an appropriate engineering design. The students realized that it is just as important to learn about the social structure of the village where the work will be performed as it is to have an accurate engineering concept.

Profile date: July 2007
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