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VR Serious Game To Create Flawless Nanotech Circuit Boards

Image credit: Nano Technology Lab Process by Utah Valley University

Nano Technology Lab Process game, developed by Utah Valley University, Digital Media Department, was selected as a finalist in the 2019 Serious Games Showcase and Challenge in the Student Category.

In the game, through virtual hands-on training, students participate in the different steps needed to create flawless nano technology circuit boards.

Game Development Background
Utah Valley University received a $704,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a nanotechnology program.  

“Nanotechnology has to do with the smallest components the smallest structures that humankind can produce. The circuitry of a computer is ultra-tiny; this is where the word nano comes in. It is one-billionth of a meter,” Paul Weber, a professor in the physics department said.

This is the second year of a three-year project. A new nanotechnology course will begin in the Spring 2020 semester. The educational material UVU is producing includes lecture materials and laboratory exercises with hands-on involvement.

But before students ever set foot in the lab, they will run through the processes with online games and virtual reality simulations created by UVU’s digital media team.

By using virtual reality, it allows the students to familiarize themselves with the equipment they are using in the lab. “We want to make sure that the students feel both familiar with doing the equipment and also confident in what they are doing,” Weber said, “The simulations that they’ve done in digital media are spot on. They look just like the real instruments.”

Image credit: Nano Technology Lab Process by Utah Valley University

The goal is for students to see the basic processes for the creation of structures, mostly electronic circuits. Students will learn techniques like photolithography, where they will etch and transfer patterns onto a silicon wafer. These are used in the production of microchips for electronic gadgets. UVU’s laboratories will include a novel water-based technique for photolithography that will avoid using the harmful solvents of conventional methods.

Nano Technology Lab Process - Game Context
Nanotechnology is the science, engineering, and application of submicron matters that tie together unique biological, physical, chemical properties of nanoscale materials in essentially new and useful ways (circuit boards). Nanoscience involves the ability to see and control individual atoms and molecules. Nanotechnology is expected to have a large impact on many sectors of the world’s economy. A strong nanotechnology economy can lead to new products, new businesses, new jobs, and even new industries for many countries. Costs for a typical lab range from several thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Each lab requires expensive machine to perform the process and materials to complete the process. Due to the prohibitive costs of these items, only one set of machines is available at some universities and only one student can perform an experiment at a time. Additionally, inexperienced and experienced users alike run the risk of damaging these costly materials. In comparison, the equipment needed to perform a VR experiment is significantly less expensive.

There are several Nanofabrication modules in the creation of circuit boards. Currently the developers have created three virtual modules: Photolithography, Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), and Plasma Etching, with the potential for more being developed.

Each player must sign in and log into the lab. Once the player enters the room, they are directed to start the simulation and a clock counts down the time to complete the process. If the player gets close on time the lights in the room will flash letting them know they are almost out of time. Once finished, the player will view the whiteboard and see their final grade for the process completed. The player may play the simulation as many times as is needed to achieve mastery.

Photolithography Process

Image credit: Nano Technology Lab Process by Utah Valley University
Within this process, there are two main machines that are being used by the player, a Spin-Coater, which takes a viscous fluid that is applied to a wafer by an eyedropper and spins it achieving an evenly distributed coating across the
surface of the wafer. Next the player uses a hot plate to bake the liquid on the wafer.

Image credit: Nano Technology Lab Process by Utah Valley University
The other main machine is the Mask Aligner, which holds a patterned mask of a circuit and through a timed UV light blast projects the pattern onto the wafer
surface and to finish it is then submersed into a solution to finish the developing of the UV light process the wafer.

Image credit: Nano Technology Lab Process by Utah Valley University

Plasma Etching Process

Image credit: Nano Technology Lab Process by Utah Valley University
RF plasma is created by introducing a neutral gas into a low vacuum chamber wherein two RF powered electrodes create a magnetic field. This magnetic field causes the gas to ionize and become plasma which is then attracted to the negatively charged electrode located underneath the substrate. Leading to material being removed from the substrate as these ions bombard the wafer. The player begins by preparing the substrate for etching. Following that they are instructed to ready the machine by providing the components needed for RF plasma etching. Next, they are taught what computer systems and settings are used to etch the substrate. Once the sample has been etched, they learn about proper machine shutdown procedures and storage of substrates.

SEM Process (Scanning Electron Microscope)

Image credit: Nano Technology Lab Process by Utah Valley University
The scanning electron microscope (SEM) is an important tool in proving these designs, since it is capable of greatly exceeding light microscope magnifications because it is not limited by the wavelength sizes of visible light. Because the SEM uses beams of electrons in a scanning pattern, instead of visible light, nanometer-scale features can be observed and measured. In addition, electron beams can be used to provide identification of the elements on the surfaces of structures.

Image credit: Nano Technology Lab Process by Utah Valley University
Each time a Lab Process is completed, the players are graded on the whiteboard within the virtual lab.
The goal of the game is to learn each of the steps necessary to create flawless circuit boards consistently virtually and then transfer that dexterity and memorization of process on to the real-world equipment. The challenges are to perform the processes accurately within the allotted time, without dropping, breaking materials or spilling liquids, and to clean-up after themselves so that the liquids stay non-contaminated.

The target audience are college students who are learning Nano Technology. The game is also intended for high school students to explore Nano Technology and devise whether it could be a field of interest for them.