A day in the life of a Senior Engineer at the Center for Nanoscale Systems.
John Tsakirgis helps budding engineers create microscopic circuits that might one day run computers as small as your fingernail.
“We don’t measure in inches here, we measure in nanometers,” says Tsakirgis, a senior engineer at the Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS) in Harvard’s Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering (LISE). Located at 11 Oxford Street, in lab spaces on the ground and basement levels, the CNS provides the latest equipment, tools and facilities – including a clean room lab to rival any seen in science fiction – to scientists looking to build a world on the molecular, and even atomic, level.
“A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter,” Tsakirgis tells the uninitiated. “A human hair is about 100,000 nanometers thick.”
It can be a tough concept to grasp. But luckily for the researchers who are exploring this tiny world, Harvard has invested in the best equipment to enable them to see and build the microscopic circuits and other nanostructures that might one day have limitless applications in medicine, technology, communications and manufacturing.
Tsakirgis is charged with acquiring and maintaining the lab’s high-tech tools, and trains researchers to handle equipment and materials. He also gives orientations to the clean room, where many of the research tools are located. Since human hair, dust and skin particles are many times larger than the structures they are building, anyone entering the lab must wear a full white jumpsuit, fitted hood, two layers of foot coverings, rubber gloves, face mask and goggles.
Tsakirgis is not a trained scientist. His background includes college and a lot of on-the-job training. The Arlington native has worked at Harvard for 11 years, after a technical career that started “in the semiconductor business,” followed by a job managing the installation of photolithography tools used to fabricate microchips. After stints in Japan, Korea and at MIT, Tsakirgis landed at Harvard and played an instrumental role in setting up the new CNS lab, which opened in July 2007.
“It’s challenging everyday,” he says, “but it’s also exciting to work with students and see how they’re changing technology and medicine.”