Q&A with new NanoLab faculty director

Q&A with new NanoLab faculty director, Connie Chang
Photo: Adriel Olmos

Constance Chang-Hasnain, Berkeley Engineering’s associate dean for strategic alliances, and John R. Whinnery Distinguished Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, took the helm of the Berkeley Marvell Nanofabrication Laboratory (NanoLab) as faculty director in January. She leads the shared research center, a 15,000-sf Class 100 and 1000 cleanroom facility housed in the headquarters of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute. The NanoLab provides more than 100 principal investigators and over 500 academic and industrial researchers access to micro- and nano-fabrication tools for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

Chang-Hasnain’s history with the NanoLab dates back to 1982, when she started her graduate study at Berkeley, and it was there that she performed the research for her doctoral thesis in 1987. In 1996, she joined the Berkeley faculty, and now her students use the NanoLab. “The NanoLab has given me a lot,” she says, “and I just want to give back.” She aims to be “the best cheerleader and sounding board” for the lab. We met up with Chang-Hasnain in Cory Hall.

Q: What are your goals and vision as the new faculty director of the NanoLab?

A: In the past four decades, the NanoLab has played a pivotal role for our industry, in the fields of semiconductors, semiconductor electronics, opto-electronics, MEMS [Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems], and bio-microfluidic devices. The most important thing is to continue this beautiful tradition, which made possible what Silicon Valley is today. That’s number one.

The reason the NanoLab has such a glorious history is because of its shared platform, which facilitates teamwork among students, faculty, and staff. It’s a rich ground that allows new ideas to grow and spring out. This culture and history are what I want to foster – to make sure the rest of the world recognizes this contribution and to enable others to mimic, teach, and expand and embrace new areas so that innovation can continue.

What many outsiders don’t realize is how the NanoLab has allowed many students and users to share knowledge. These “knowhows” help form a community. If you have a new idea, you can find a friend or a friend’s friend who knows how to do it. This sharing culture makes the equipment alive and creates a recipe for innovation.

Q. You are founding co-director of Tsinghua Berkeley Shenzhen Institute and the college’s associate dean for strategic alliances. Do you have a plan for more international partnerships?

A. Yes, we want to provide our students with the experience, exposure, and knowledge to become a global citizen. The world is increasingly complex, and our students have big ambitions. To excel, embracing different cultures and working with diverse groups is important. Of the college’s many international partnerships, Tsinghua Berkeley Shenzhen Institute is the deepest.

The NanoLab is probably the first in the world with a shared platform, and we want to help others develop this model. In return, a partner may have certain equipment that we have no access to, and we can expand our capability. These are the relationships I like to develop, whether with a company or an academic institution.

Q. How do you think your expertise would affect or contribute to your position?

A. I have been a constant user of the NanoLab for maybe 30 years. I was a student for 5 years and faculty for about 22 years now, working on semiconductor optoelectronic devices, semiconductor lasers, detectors, sensors, also MEMS.

I use material called III–V compound semiconductor; it’s different from silicon, but the NanoLab has room and equipment for all different materials, including III–V inorganic material, organic materials, polymer, bio materials, etc. I feel very proud of this.

Q. Are there any challenges in the NanoLab, and how do you plan to address these?

A. Like any such shared facility, the lab has its issues. Space is limited and the staff runs a tight budget. My position is to support them and be the best cheerleader. I want to help bring in external partnerships to facilitate expansion, while keeping the collaborative, community environment.

Q. Where do you see the future of the NanoLab?

A. From a semiconductor processing point of view, so-called nano processing, we have some of top-notch state-of-the-art equipment. But we do not yet have some of the most advanced tools and scaling capability — larger wafers, faster processing, and better control nano-scale processing — which means making things nanometer size as well as being able to control and characterize it. So, raising funds to upgrade equipment will be important.

Q. Women are not proportionately represented in the tech industry and academia. Could you share with us your journey and thoughts here?

A. Your question is a very important one. I am a minority in more than one way and being a woman is just one part, so I would like to broaden the question a bit.

I strongly believe it is critical to build a learning environment that is welcoming, supportive, and tolerant to new ideas. We can thrive as a community only if we accept, embrace and respect people who are different from us – be the difference gender, religion, native language, or ethnic origin. To this extent, I would like to help foster better understanding and communications.

I have been active in serving my professional societies, and now serve as the vice president of OSA [Optical Society]. I feel more than ever responsible to build a bridge to achieve better understanding and appreciation. I will also do so as NanoLab director.

I believe with better communication, borders and differences can eventually be removed. We need to be persistent, perseverant, and vigilant, never wavering to continue in this direction.

To learn more about Chang-Hasnain, read her bio >


The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.

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