Engineering News - George R. Brown School of Engineering

NSF grant funds undergrad travel to Switzerland for summer research

Ryan Pei, a sophomore in electrical engineering, will spend next summer researching the fabrication of micro- and nano-devices in Zurich, Switzerland, and he gives all the credit for the opportunity to Jun Lou, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science.

“He’s one of those professors who’s willing to mentor you,” Pei said. “He’s very scientifically inclined, creative and open-minded, and he takes the role of mentoring you through the process. He keeps you interested.”

Lou, in turn, gives all the credit to Pei: “Ryan is very intelligent, of course, and a very hard worker. But most all, he is enthusiastic, with a lot of energy. Without that kind of enthusiasm, I don’t think he would be a part of the program.”


With the aid of a $29,000 IREE (International Research and Education in Engineering) supplemental grant from the National Science Foundation, Lou and Pei will leave next May for Zurich, where they will spend almost 12 weeks working at ETH Zurich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule), a science and technology university. Twenty-one Nobel Laureates have been associated with the school in its 150-year history.

Professor and student first worked together last summer, when Pei and two other undergraduates did research on thin films and nano wire in Lou’s laboratory. In Zurich, they will work in the Micro and Nanosystems group at ETH-Zurich.

Pei and Lou’s research will focus on development of nanoelectro-mechanical systems (NEMS)-based sensors employing suspended carbon nanotubes and metallic nanowires.

“This is part of the move toward developing an integrated chip combining the arrays of such devices with micro/nano fluidics components for parallel and high-yield on-chip fluid analysis. The potential applications are in the areas of bio-sensing, environment monitoring and homeland securities,” Lou explained.

Before working with Lou, Pei’s academic interests were somewhat unfocused. He contemplated earning his bachelor’s degree and finding a job in industry. Now he’s seriously thinking about going after his Ph.D., perhaps in the field of nano-technology.

“This is definitely a new area in technology, something that we’re just starting to explore, Pei said. “It’s interesting to feel that you’re one of the people in it from the start. It’s exciting.”