M Williams is quick to admit that the Microelectronic Manufacturing (MEMS) program at LCC is a challenge.
The engineering track, which offers associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in applied sciences, delves into computer science, electronics, chemistry, and mechanics, all on a microscopic scale.
Understanding these complex concepts wasn’t always easy for Williams.
“It’s really one day at a time for me,” says Williams. “I love what I do, but I spend a lot of time studying.”
Williams also seems quick to show humility, too.
Since starting her MEMS program in 2020, Williams has seized a series of opportunities that have helped her build an impressive resume and, most importantly, boost her self-confidence.
Today, Williams is working on her latest opportunity–to conduct research needed for a $1,000 NASA-funded Ohio Space Scholarship Community College Scholarship.
It has not yet decided on the title of the report, but Williams will look at the accelerating trend of component miniaturization in the microelectromechanical systems industry.
Moore’s Law predicts that a computer’s processing power doubles every two years, and as a result, the number of transistors an integrated circuit chip can hold increases.
“This rule has been consistent for decades,” says Williams. “But we’re now getting to the point where these components are under sub-millimeters by millimeters.”
The components have become so small that it is impossible for humans to handle and solder effectively, says Williams, of Grafton.
This is where automation comes in.
Robots and machines work together on an assembly line to pick up, place and weld components in an accurate and efficient manner.
But Williams questions whether the automated machines available commercially today are equipped to handle current and future technological developments that continue to shrink components.
The Electronics Manufacturing and Reworking Training Institute (MERIT) lab at the Richard Desich SMART Commercialization Center will give home to her research.
Its research partner will be the Panasonic Placement Machine, which uses tiny vacuum nozzles to pick up miniature components and place them on printed circuit boards.
“We have these nozzles that are able to pick up many sizes of ingredients,” Williams says. “But do we have nozzles that can pick up the smallest ingredients on the market?”
Williams hopes her research results will help the entire MES industry see if today’s machines can keep up with the shrinking components of tomorrow.
The project will add more time to Williams’ already extensive study schedule, but she is ready for the challenge and familiar with the process because this is the second grant funded by NASA.
When Johnny Vanderford, LCCC assistant professor at MEMS and director of MERIT, contacted Williams about his first scholarship application and a research topic — the long-term health effects of inhaling lead and solder in humans — she didn’t think she should apply.
“There was nothing in my head that said I was the least qualified,” Williams says.
However, with Vanderford’s encouragement, Williams submitted her application and it was accepted.
When she started her research, she didn’t have much interest in the topic, but through the process she became involved with the material.
“I ended up falling in love with the project,” Williams says. “Going from the level of basic knowledge that vapors are not good for inhaling, to where I am now is amazing.”
In finalizing her research paper, Williams recognized its ability to take on complex scientific topics and make the information understandable to those who don’t know anything about the topic, while still being interesting and credible to those who know it.
“I was able to present the information in a way that used jargon without excluding people who knew nothing about electronics,” Williams says. “My entire family has read my research, from my grandmother who didn’t graduate from high school to my aunt and uncle who are engineers.”
Research paper has been published
In March 2021, NASA published Williams’ research paper as part of its annual Student Research Symposium.
Since then, local companies have distributed it to engineering departments to stress the importance of safety protocols, such as using smoke hoods and wearing a face mask, that protect workers’ health.
Williams’ pride in her work fuels her pursuit of an associate’s degree—she has one course left to take in the spring—and to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in applied sciences.
While her career future is uncertain, Williams is sure she wants to help people and hopes to be able to do so through research.
“My research might be the difference between a worker having to retire at age 45 because they developed respiratory complications from inhaling rosin among other toxins in flux and welding every day, and someone choosing to wear a mask and put another layer between them and the smoke,” Williams says. That I may not see the benefit I offer directly, but I would like to believe that it will still be there.”
To see a short video of Em Williams, visit https://youtu.be/TZY2puzd3N4.
For more information about the LCCC MEMS Program, visit www.lorainccc.edu/mems.