A Deep Dive into Research

Published in MIT News on June 22, 2017, by Alison F. Takemura, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

SuperUROP gives undergraduates the chance to immerse themselves in a year-long research project with supportive mentors to guide the way.

Ignacio Estay Forno handled his research project with care. “It was like my baby,” says the junior, who is majoring in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS).

His project, conducted in collaboration with graduate student Di Zhu in EECS professor Karl Berggren’s lab, focused on developing an array of detectors that could spot single photons, furthering a technology that is used in fast-paced communications and can reach near-gigabit speeds between the Earth and the moon. “I was involved heavily in every single step,” Estay Forno says.

First, though, he had to learn about the lab’s work and understand the underlying theory. Only after months of running simulations could he go on to the building stage, he says.

Handling his device — a centimeter-square chip packed with nanomaterials — was stressful: A speck of dust could break it. But he also found the work exhilarating. Part of the fabrication process, which involves temperatures just a few degrees above 0 Kelvin, required Estay Forno to swaddle his chip in aluminum foil and dunk it in liquid helium. “I thought that was really cool,” he says...

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