In this episode, our guest is Associate Professor Long Que from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) at Iowa State University (ISU). Here, we talk about his research on microfluidics, nanotechnology, and photonics with applications in biology. We also discuss the relevant coursework, research opportunities, and facilities available for new and current students to build a background in this area. This episode was conceptualized, recorded, edited, and produced by Santosh Pandey from the ECpE Department of Iowa State University. Initial sound editing and transcript preparation was done by Ankita, Richa Pathak, Yunsoo Park from the ISU ECpE Department. The communications and digital hosting was handled by Kristin Clague from the ISU ECpE Department. The music was provided by Coma-Media from Pixabay (Track Title: Light and Minimal Background).
Welcome to our ECpE podcast series where we talk about exciting activities within the department. I'm your host Santosh Pandey. Our guest today is Professor Long Que from Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University. Dr. Que, thank you for coming here. Today, we want to talk about your research and Microfluidics, Nanotechnology and Photonics with a particular emphasis mentoring. To start with, could you educate our listeners on some of your research projects in Nanotechnology and the facilities available in your research lab? First, thank you for inviting me to be part of this series. The research projects in my lab mainly focus on developing different type of chips using Micro or Nano technology for Biomedical applications, especially for Neuroscience applications and platelets behavior studies in blood vessels. Yeah, we have Micro and Nano Fabrication capabilities at Microelectronics Research Center. And most of my students use those equipment to carry out experiments. And also, we have collaborators in Neuroscience and Biology labs, so they were also work together. I mean, the students from my lab and other labs work together to carry out experiments. That's great. What is the impact of your research efforts in terms of educating students, creating a new workforce and eventually benefiting the society? Well, that's a very good question. Since the research project, in my lab cross basically different fields, the students not only can learn the technologies, for example, Microtechnology/ Nanotechnology in the engineering side, but also can gain experience for, for example, culture cells and analyze behaviors of the cells. So, basically you can learn both engineering technologies and biotechnology. That benefit them a lot in terms of their education. In your view, what's the most fulfilling or rewarding part of your work? Is it about mentoring students, graduating students or showing them how to become technology innovators? Yeah, that's very good question. I think that' all basically what you mentioned. All of the above? Yeah, all of the above. But I, I really feel, you know, very good that the students, after their studies in my lab, they can expand the scope of knowledge. For instance, after their research, they can be looking for jobs, you know, not only in semiconductor industry, but also can be looking for jobs in biomedical community. Wonderful! For most students from my lab, actually their background is in electrical engineering. They learned biology or technology by collaborating with our collaborators. So, at the same time, some of them took some courses in biology. What is a typical project process flow in your research? How long does it take to go from design concepts to full realization of the devices and subsequent publication? This is highly related to the complexity of the projects the student work on. In general, the students can, typically the student can, you know, usually take them like one year from the concept to have fully functional devices and, 1.5 years to have publications. It's again, it depends on the project, some projects actually the time is much shorter. What are the journals your students publish their research in? Actually the journals I usually published in my field is in our community - MEMS community. So one of the top journals is Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems. So that's one major journal we publish. We were so publish our paper in other journals, such as Bioelectronics and Biosensors and Lab on Chip. Sometimes we also publish papers in ACS Journals. Do you design, fabricate and test all your devices in your research lab itself? Yeah, basically. Yeah, we do the everything in our lab. At the same time, we have very good, you know, fabrication places at MRC, Microelectronic Research Center. Especially right now, we have more and more equipment coming that allow us to do more fabrications at micro, nano scales. That's good. I assume your work is highly collaborative and interdisciplinary. What are examples of some collaborations you have had here and what challenges you face in these collaborations, especially those outside the department and within biology? Yeah, that's actually, it's a very good question. As I mentioned before, our research projects are across different fields. We have a lot of collaborations from professors in different fields. For example, in one research project, we use micro nano technology to culture the neuro spheres as Brain- on-Chip. So, it's very exciting project. Based on my experience, if you want to establish successful collaboration, it's not easy thing to do at the beginning because the experts from different fields, they have different languages. So it's very challenging at the beginning, how to convince them, believe that, you know, by collaboration we can, you know, maybe achieve something we never can achieve before. So, that's the most difficult part - how to make them believe us. But, based on my experience at ISU, all the faculties at different departments are very friendly. So even though at the beginning, maybe it's not easy to understand each other, after some time, you can establish a very good in collaboration because all of them, based on my experience, are very open minded. That's good. Moving on to the courses you teach. You teach a popular course that is taken by a number of Mechanical Engineering students. What course is that? Yeah, that course actually is basic circuit design course. The typical size of that course is between 200 to 300 per semester. It's very nice at the beginning. It's not easy for me to handle because I never taught that kind of course with such big size, but eventually just, you know, by gaining some more experience right now become better and better. And the students feedback is quite good. How do you teach the value of electrical engineering to non-electrical engineering students? It's very tricky and to improve their learning experience, what I did, I compared the first semester, first half of semesters, I have more examples to, for example, solve the circuits step by step. So make sure they really understand, you know, the principles. Yeah. At the beginning, sometimes we assume they know something, but it's better to build a better foundation to move on. Is there a teaching lab that goes with the course? That's right. So we have TAs and they perform the labs. For the past two years, we have online labs. Some students like to use their software to simulate circuits, but some students like, you know, for the lab, they like a simulation labs, use their software. So some student like the in-person lab. That's good. Yeah. We have to compromise basically. Before the pandemic, we only focus on the experimental part - building the circuits, you know, in the lab. We switch to some simulation labs because of the pandemic. I'm going to switch back to the students to build the circuits in the lab. It's better to have more hands-on experience. Simulation is important, of course. Moving on. What are some of the other courses you teach at Iowa State? Actually I taught some more advanced circuit design course, like EE 230 for electrical engineering students. And also I created a new course. Basically I used a commercial available software, Comsol, to design the micro nano devices, basically to design MEMS devices and NEMS devices. It looks like, you know, this course will benefit students. I know some students actually joined the industry. Their first job actually used Comsol to design some micro nano devices. So it's very good for them to have some hands on experience and they can use the software immediately when they join the company without training. Is the Comsol simulation tool available to our students? Yes. We have a student version. So it's sufficiently enough for them to learn the software. What are the typical courses taken by your graduate students? Even though my students in my lab doing research related to some biology, biomedical engineering, but their background actually is in electronics, most of them in electronic engineering. So they have taken the traditional courses such as semiconductor series, semiconductor fabrication. I think that's very important for them, you know, and also sometimes they take, in recent semesters, some machine learning courses. Some of them actually, of course, they take some biology courses. So most of them basically take the main courses in electrical engineering. What kind of jobs are sought by students graduating from your research group? What skillsets are these companies looking for? So far, I have three students actually become a faculty member at the universities in USA, Jordan and China. Three of them. So, other students, majority of students, joined the semiconductor companies He's doing the quantum devices, Skyworks, ASML, yeah, most of them actually, and Micron technology, Texas instrument. So all of them, their first job in those companies are as process engineers based on their experience for fabricating micro chips or nano chips in my lab. Are you in touch with your students who graduate from your lab and do they come back to the campus? Yeah, actually, sometimes they come back to interview the candidates from this university. And also we actually have connection, regular connections, contacts. They really appreciate the learning experience at Iowa State. How does Iowa State compare with peer rank institutions in terms of our research facilities in nanotechnology and sensors? Are we competitive? I think we have a very strong program in our field - micro electronics and photonics group. You see all of the faculty members in this area received the NSF Career award. That's the evidence. Right? Right. Definitely. We're competitive. Yeah. We become better and better. Right? What is your final word of advice for students interested in nanotechnology? I think the most important part I want to mention is to gain extensive hands on experience, Both in simulation and fabrication process. Based on my information and of my students, you know, they always get asked if you have really designed the device by yourself, used software, and then you actually fabricated it and then you actually tested it. So, the hands on experience is very important if they want to get involved in the nanotechnology field. That's great. Thank you so much for your discussions today. I hope my students learned a lot about your work and nanotechnology in general. Thank you. Thank you very much.