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Teaching Electronic Conduction Phenomena to Undergraduate Electrical Engineering Students Using Purdue University's New "Bottom-Up" Approach

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Peter M. Osterberg University of Portland

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Dr. Peter Osterberg is an associate professor in Electrical Engineering at the University of Portland (Portland, OR). He received his BSEE and MSEE degrees from MIT in 1980. He received his Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from MIT in 1995 in the field of MEMS. He worked in industry at Texas Instruments, GTE, and Digital Equipment Corporation in the field of microelectronics. His research interests are microelectronics, MEMS, and nanoelectronics.

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Aziz Sukru Inan University of Portland

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Dr. Aziz Inan is a professor in Electrical Engineering at the University of Portland (Portland, OR), where he has also served as Department Chairman. He received his BSEE degree from San Jose State University in 1979 and MS and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1980 and 1983 respectively. His research interests are electromagnetic wave propagation in conducting and inhomogeneous media. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi and senior member of IEEE.

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Historically, undergraduate Electrical Engineering (EE) programs have taught electronic conduction phenomena using a “Top-Down” approach. That is, traditional programs start with large devices (i.e., “Top”) and teach how interesting electronic conduction phenomena change as the size of the device decreases towards the nano-scale (i.e., “Down”). So, for example, this approach would predict that as the length of a resistor is decreased, its resistance would approach zero ohms.

For the past five years, the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of “X” has been experimenting with teaching electronic conduction phenomena to EE students in a senior-level Advanced Electronics elective course using “Y” University’s new “Bottom-Up” Approach [1,2]. This “Bottom-Up Approach” first considers the theoretical treatment of both electronic conduction and Ohm’s Law in a nano-scale size conductor (i.e., “Bottom”) where ballistic conduction dominates. This device is known as an “elastic resistor”. Then this approach works “Up” towards large-scale conductors where electron scattering conduction dominates. The idea is that Electrical Engineering students can more simply and intuitively understand pure ballistic electronic conduction at the nano-scale, and then work backwards up to larger devices where more sophisticated electron flow phenomena (i.e., drift current, Boltzmann transport, etc) needs to be applied. Specifically, the course starts at the “Bottom” (or nano-scale) and considers the current/voltage (I/V) characteristic of an elastic nano-scale conductor with only one energy level. Using simple principles, the I/V characteristic of the conductor is easily found. Also, as the nano-conductor length dimension is shrunk to the order of 1nm, it is noted that a maximum Conductance (G) is reached having a value of 2*q2/h. This is called the Quantum of Conductance. Additionally, it is easy to teach concepts such as I2R power heating, Seebeck effect and Peltier effect in this “Bottom” regime. The main reason for the simplicity and success of this “Bottom-Up” approach is due to the clean separation between physical phenomena involving mechanics versus those involving thermodynamics within the nano-conductor. All the heating (or cooling) occurs in the contacts located at either end of the nano-conductor, and none within the conductor itself. Whereas, all the mechanics occurs within the nano-device itself, and is due to pure electron ballistic transport. Then, the treatment of electronic conduction is extended “Up” towards macro-scale devices where both the mechanics and thermodynamics phenomena are “all mixed up” within the channel causing the electron transport physics to become more complicated. But the well-known Ohm’s Law principle is recovered.

The assessment of this new approach has been done through student evaluations where it was found that the students understanding and interest was greatly enhanced, making this “Bottom-Up” approach very appealing in improving EE undergraduate students’ knowledge of electronic conduction phenomena.

[1], “Fundamentals of Nanoelectronics, Part 1: Basic Concepts”

[2] S.Datta, Lessons from Nanoelectronics: A New Perspective in Transport, World Scientific (2012). World Scientific

Osterberg, P. M., & Inan, A. S. (2016, June), Teaching Electronic Conduction Phenomena to Undergraduate Electrical Engineering Students Using Purdue University's New "Bottom-Up" Approach Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27350

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