McNamara teaches favorite course which includes work in the Clean Room

February 13, 2017

Dr. Shamus McNamara“I always wanted to be an electrical engineer,” says Dr. Shamus McNamara, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Director of the Clean Room. “When I was in elementary school, I did a research project on how to make a computer and my life has followed that path since then. First, I did some software. Then I wanted to know how to do that. I kept going smaller and smaller. How do you build it? How do you build that part? That got me to where I am now."

A native of Tucson, Arizona, Dr. McNamara’s education took him around the country, from the cooler climate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, where he obtained his undergrad and master’s degrees, to the sharp seasonal swings that included bitter cold at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he earned his PhD. He arrived in Louisville with his family in 2005, where he has taught since, including his work in the Clean Room.

Primarily, Dr. McNamara’s research centers around MEMS, or micro electro mechanical systems, which drive both his teaching and his research. In particular, he is working with gas microfluidics, which is the gas flow through micro channels. His work correlates to the concept of a lab on a chip, a miniaturized biological or medical lab that uses minute amounts of sample materials to conduct tests.

“In the United States, it’s the cost and times that are driving things. If you can go into your doctor and get a test done in ten minutes, it’s much faster than sending your blood off to a lab, it speeds up things and you can get things faster. If you look at other countries without the infrastructure that we have, you can have minimally trained personal do the work. It has a lot of potential,” says Dr. McNamara.

Not only does Dr. McNamara run the Clean Room, part of the Micro-Nano Technology Center, but he is also a client. As the director, his primary task is to make sure the room is available. The space is a resource that benefits not only faculty and students, but companies of all shapes and sizes. The room features equipment that is too expensive to purchase otherwise, making it a unique location to conduct work in the region.

“The faculty get to use it, which enables them to bring in a lot of grant money. We’ve estimated that somewhere between one-third to one-half of grants that come into UofL come from work in the MNTC, used in some way,” says Dr. McNamara.

He adds, “It becomes a very good resource for a lot of big companies, small companies, faculty members. We have classes that use the Clean Room. They (the students) eventually graduate go out, work for a company, or start their own business or whatever.”

As such, he is teaching what he admits is one of his favorite courses, MEMS Design and Fabrication, this semester, which ties into his work in the Clean Room.

“They section off into teams and each team has to design some device. They design it, we simulate it, and we go into the Clean Room and make it,” he says continuing, “I’m always changing courses. There is always something you’re improving. That’s just what professors do.”