ssistant Professor Nicola Ferrier (right) is working with
postdoctoral researcher Kyunghwan Kim (left) to give robots a sense of
touch. Currently, a typical robot hand might include two ridged
fingers made of parallel plates. If an object is flat and its
placement known, the robot can successfully pick it up. But try
finding and picking up an egg with the same robotic hand and the task
becomes problematic. By incorporating force and shape sensors embedded
within deformable robotic fingertips, Ferrier has developed a method
of sensing an object's shape and the distribution of forces required
to manipulate the object. With both shape and force information, the
robotic hand can operate more dexterously. To facilitate locating an
object, Ferrier's research group will combine the
force-and-shape-sensing system with a visual sensory system. This
particular combination will give the robot eye and hand
coordination. Before that can be done, however, Ferrier's team must
figure out how to instruct the robot to manage various sensory
information so that it will know when to look and move in order to
successfully find and manipulate an object.
New ways to print computer chips
Powerful computer models that actually simulate the making of computer chips are helping lead manufacturers to a new generation of smaller, faster and better electronics.
Professor Roxann Engelstad is directing a $2 million project funded by Sematech to simulate four competing technologies for making semiconductors in the next century. Sematech, a 10-member consortium of semiconductor manufacturers, will use results of the project to generate data for the industry.
The technology that served the semiconductor industry for decades will hit a wall in a few years, forcing the industry to reinvent the way it builds chips, Engelstad says. Optical lithography, the current approach to making semiconductors, does not appear to have the capability to print future circuitry in the precise dimensions needed.
Four new approaches to lithography are being considered, including the use of X-ray, electron beam, projection ion beam and extreme ultraviolet. Finding which competing technology is most cost-effective, Engelstad says, is being hailed by some in the industry as the "decision of the century."
Creating a Collaborative Learning Environment (CCLE)
What can a professor of thermodynamics learn about teaching from a professor of South African history and vise versa? Quite a bit. At least that's what faculty in the CCLE program have found. What started out as an effort to improve teaching in the College of Engineering has grown to include the entire Madison campus under the direction of Associate Scientist Katherine Sanders.
The intent, says one faculty advisor and program participant Professor Patrick Farrell, is to provide a venue for faculty who are interested in developing a deep understanding of learning and teaching. The focus is on understanding how students and faculty learn and in particular how they learn in a collaborative environment. Farrell says most participants enter the year-long program convinced that faculty from such diverse fields can't possibly have anything in common with regard to teaching. But by looking at the simplest elements of how new knowledge forms, faculty across campus have found that the process of learning and the things that stop the process are essentially the same no matter what subject is being studied.
From this common viewpoint, faculty can help each other analyze the way they teach. Farrell says many find ways to make changes in their courses and interactions with students that can help foster better learning.
Kenneth W. Ragland, Chair
240 Mechanical Engineering
1513 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1572
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1998 Annual Report Contents