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South Korean Students Create Micro-Machines, Experience America in Popular Summer Optics Program

July 31, 2012

By Dale Long, Director of News Services

The roster of students earning course credits from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology continues to take an international flair after 20 South Korean students learned about micro-sized machines and experienced American culture during a popular summer educational exchange that ends this week.

  Valuable Lab Experience: Visiting South Korean students examine one of the micro-sized machines created in the Department of Physics and Optical Engineering's Micro-Nano Device and Systems Laboratory, under the guidance of professor Scott Kirkpatrick (second from left).

Since July 9, students from the Seoul National University of Technology, Korean Polytechnic University and Soon Cheon Hyang University have taken an Introduction to Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) course, taught by physics and optical engineering professors Michael McInerney, Ph.D., and Scott Kirkpatrick, Ph.D.

Lectures and hands-on experiences in the Micro-Nano Device and Systems (MiNDS) Laboratory have covered the properties of silicon wafers, thin-film deposition, dry and wet etching, surface and bulk micromachining and MEMS applications using heat actuators. Special emphasis was taken to show how micro-machines are interdependent on mechanical, electrical and chemical subsystems.

"I now know that MEMS is a complex system of multiple mechanical systems working together," stated Toe Young "Terry" Jwa, a 23-year-old junior mechanical engineering student. "The course has made me more aware of how the smallest of systems work together to form a larger product."

Use of MiNDS' clean room is rather difficult to achieve in Korean universities because of the laboratory's high maintenance expense. Clean rooms in Korea are usually reserved for commercial production, according to McInerney. This makes Rose-Hulman's program attractive for students attending South Korean technological institutions. More than 30 top scholars applied for the 20 seats in the class, taught for the third straight year. 

"Our program has been judged the best summer international experience for South Korean university students during the past two years," stated McInerney. "It has been a delightful program for both institutions and may be expanded to serve students from other foreign countries in the future."

Each student earns four Rose-Hulman credit hours for passing the course.

Improving the Korean students' English language skills and providing American cultural experiences are additional program goals.  There are daily English language classes, taught by an Indiana State University professor. Cultural activities have had the students assisting in recovery efforts from this spring's devastating tornadoes in Henryville, Ind.; demonstrating puzzle-solving skills for youths at a local community center; and attending a local county fair; playing laser tag and bowling. There have also been social events with Rose-Hulman students and families throughout the Terre Haute area, and trips to visit Chicago and a southern Indiana theme/water park.

Studying In America: Students from three South Korean universities have spent the past four weeks being introduced to  micro-sized machines in a class taught by physics and optical engineering professor Michael McInerney (left).


"While I was thrilled with the opportunity to come to Rose-Hulman, I was scared to see if I would fit into the American lifestyle," stated Yong Kyu "Q" Choi, 23, a senior mechanical systems design engineering student. "People made us feel so comfortable. I'm leaving with lots of great memories. From the very first day, it has been fun. It's going to be hard to leave."

Sung Hyun "Brian" Kim, 24, another senior, added: "We came to learn in the classroom. However, we learned so much more outside school while experiencing American culture."

Seven Rose-Hulman students served as mentors for the group and have also gained global experiences throughout the program, sponsored by the South Korean government.

"The Koreans are so brave to come here and learn something new in an entirely different environment. You could see them gaining in confidence every day," stated Alex Weissenfels, a sophomore Rose-Hulman optical engineering student.

"They enjoy everything and have been brilliant in dealing with any adversity that came along," added Jessica Palmer, a senior optical engineering major. "I have never worked this closely with someone who isn't from America. I learned that we shared a lot of common interests. After all, we're all engineering students."

And, there may be opportunities for the South Korean group to return to Rose-Hulman in the future. The college and Seoul National University of Science and Technology have developed a new dual academic master's degree program in optical engineering. Students can earn Master of Science degrees in optical engineering from both institutions. Students will experience learning on both campuses and participate in an internship at a company in Korea. Five students from Seoul Tech are planning to arrive in August to begin the program at Rose-Hulman, according to McInerney.

Learn more about Rose-Hulman's MiNDS program here.