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University, Cornell team up for flexible electronics class

By : Eric Coker

A new course is using innovative instruction to highlight a growing area of cutting-edge, interdisciplinary technology.


Flexible Electronics is being taught in collaboration with Cornell for the first time at the University. The course, supported by the Small Scale Systems Integration and Packaging Center (S3IP), is taught at Binghamton by Mark Poliks, research professor of chemistry, and in Ithaca by Chris Ober, Francis N. Bard Professor of Materials Engineering at Cornell.


The class includes a student at the Wadsworth Center in Albany and features guest lecturers most weeks from the Binghamton and Cornell faculty and companies such as Endicott Interconnect, IBM and General Electric. The class participants are linked by Adobe Connect: Binghamton students can see a presentation being made at Cornell and vice versa.


“We’re really building upon the students’ fundamental knowledge,” said Poliks, who also is director of research and development at Endicott Interconnect. “In a course like this, we expect them to draw upon that information and apply it to something they’re going to do research on. It’s a course that’s making them apply their knowledge.”


The course also showcases a partnership between the University, Cornell and Endicott Interconnect that resulted last spring in the opening of the Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing (CAMM) at EI’s Huron Campus in Endicott. CAMM looks to pioneer the development and research of microelectronics manufacturing in a roll-to-roll format.

Poliks, who serves as the CAMM’s technical director, said a short-term example of flexible electronics could be medical applications in which electronics are rolled up and placed in blood veins to do imaging. A long-term example could be a flexible classroom screen that would eliminate the use of a projector and work more like a laptop computer screen.

Ober previously taught an electronics packaging course with help from IBM-Endicott. Parts of that course were “dusted off,” Ober said, as he and Poliks prepared a prototype of the Flexible Electronics class in 2006 while the CAMM was still being established.

“Education and outreach is an important part of a campus-based research center,” Poliks said. “Here we are educating the students on the fundamentals and the technology they’re pursuing.”

Before each class in Science 2, Poliks takes about five minutes to set up a laptop computer and other minor equipment that connects participants. He and Ober then interact to make sure students are ready. The class leader, be it Poliks, Ober or a guest lecturer, wears or holds a microphone in order to be heard at the other campuses. 

In a recent class, scientist Luis Matienzo from Endicott Interconnect came to the Binghamton campus to give a presentation about physical methods and materials characterizations. The Cornell and Wadsworth students were able to hear Matienzo and see his accompanying slides. Cornell students were able to ask questions and Ober broke in at one point to tell his class that the person pictured on one of the slides was in fact Matienzo. The only technical issue in the 90-minute class arose when Poliks briefly adjusted the volume of Matienzo’s microphone to avoid potential feedback.

Both Poliks and Ober agree that the technology has worked well and has helped the course.

“On the occasions when I’ve given the lecture, we’ve almost had a dialogue,” Poliks said. “I’d be talking and (Ober) would ask me a question. We’re almost having a conversation.”

“All of the students are interested and engaged,” said Ober, who had never taken part in a Webcast class before. “The complexity (of the technology) stretches me a little thin, but the hardware is working the way it’s supposed to. It’s pretty much been a raging success.”

Binghamton students agree. About 18 are taking the course; another 25 students are at Cornell.

“The collaborative nature with Cornell has been great, and nearly flawless,” said Dylan Farnam, a graduate student in the Mechanical Engineering Department. “The course has definitely exceeded my expectations and encompasses all the necessary and important aspects of the classroom environment often neglected in traditional distance learning.”

“The best part of the class is that the material presented and topics discussed are cross-disciplinary in nature and scope,” said Denisse Yepez, a graduate student in the Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Department. “The information exchange about current and state-of-the-art technology developments undertaken by industry professionals along with academia is unique.”

Poliks said he plans to invite his students to visit the Cornell class for a social gathering.
“(The course) is an opportunity for our students, in a sense, to have a seat at a Cornell class,” he said. “We’re contributing equally in the process, so we’re both benefiting.”
“It’s been a really fun experiment,” Ober said. “I can see doing this more in the future.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08