Most designers and electronics engineers know all too well that making a major discovery is only one small part of the innovation cycle. They know that whatever they’ve found or invented, whether it be a new process or material, or novel use for a known element, they are many champagne corks away from a pat on the back or, hopefully, a big raise.
For a hypothetical example, let’s say you discover a material that is not only durable enough to encase consumer goods, but also acts like a solar cell that can safely power the device it encases as well as several external devices. The material will save the end user boat loads of money that would be spent on batteries and it can protect the internal circuitry from any event short of Armageddon or a zombie apocalypse. Great find, for starts.
In addition to discovering this material, you find that it’s far too expensive for consumer and many commercial designs and it cannot easily be molded into product enclosures. This means that the manufacturing expenses will also be quite high. At this point you are faced with a simple fork in the road, two choices if you will: give up or solve the problems around your baby.
Consumers rarely, if ever, understand or even acknowledge the amount of effort that went into the products and devices they take for granted. When a person goes to a concert by a brilliant pianist, they don’t hear the hours of practice involved or see the dollars spent on lessons, they just hear/see the end result. Guilty as confessed, I certainly don’t spend any time thinking about what went into the creation of MS Office, even though I use its components all day, every day. That’s okay, it is what is.
The Rising Star Rising To The Occasion
At this year’s Sensors Expo West in San Jose, the winner of the Rising Star Engineer award has shown great promise in solving some very perplexing force-sensor challenges. For his postdoctoral at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Dr. Michael Cullinan worked on developing graphene-based nanoelectromechanical resonators for making very sensitive force and mass measurements.
The sensors he developed work based on changes in the resonant frequency of suspended graphene structures. The result is a graphene-based resonant sensor capable of detecting masses down to the attogram level. To give an idea of how low that is, one attogram is 1 x 10-18 gram.
The ability of a pressure sensor such as Dr. Cullinan’s to detect levels that low make it very desirable for a plethora of applications. Medical applications, surgery and microsurgery in particular, would be countless.
Okay, that’s pretty impressive in itself, but remember the aforementioned hypothetical scenario involving that unique power material. Similar to that, Dr. Cullinan’s work is far from done and he’s right on top of it. His current work at the University of Texas at Austin focuses on scaling the production of micro and nanoscale sensors up to commercially relevant levels and integrating micro and nanoscale sensors into metrology systems for manufacturing operations.
In addition to being acknowledged by the Sensors Expo Council of Experts for his efforts, there’s no doubt more awards will be forthcoming as his discoveries find their way into emerging products and devices. For info on what Dr. Michael Cullinan is up to research and development wise, you can visit his University of Texas webpage. ~MD
Mat Dirjish is the Executive Editor of Sensors magazine. Before coming on board, he covered the test and measurement and embedded systems market for Electronic Products Magazine, after which he spent thirteen years covering the electronic components market for EE Product News and Electronic Design magazines. He also has an extensive background in high-end audio/video design, modification, servicing, and installation.