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Sensors and Actuators

We are developing sensing concepts that take advantage of the small feature sizes enabled by microsystem technology and nanotechnology. Our new sensing concepts either rely on small-scale effects or they allow integration of miniaturized devices into engineering systems. Research on small-scale actuators seeks to manipulate matter or energy reliably and effectively.

Faculty involved:

Research Topics include:

Carbon nanotube-based sensors

Chemical sensors

We are developing sensing concepts to detect the presence and the concentration of chemicals in liquids and in gases. These sensing concepts take advantage of the small scale including high surface to volume ratios and the scalability of devices. This allows integrating a large range of different sensing devices on the same substrate to increase the overall sensor performance in terms of sensitivity and selectivity.

Inertial sensors

We are designing inertial microsensors and we are developing new microsystem operating schemes. These schemes include nonlinear control algorithms, microsystem stability considerations as well as spectral noise analysis. We also employ unconventional detection schemes such as interferometry for signal readout.

Ion channel sensors

Ion channels form passages in biological membranes through which ions can move across these membranes according to the adjustment of the channel barriers. Our interest in biological ion channel research includes dynamics, structure and applications. In particular, our research on large-scale dynamic modeling uses Brownian dynamics to describe ion channel properties such as permeability, hydrophobicity and polarity. Our goal is the development of effective and specific biosensors based on these molecular structures.

Micro-flow control

We develop new methods for microflow control in order to manipulate minute amounts of sample on-chip for applications such as analysis of biological samples. These flow control methods include microvalves, micromixers, micropumps, and integrated filter structures. We also investigate microflow physics of complex microflows including multiphase flow to optimize microflow control strategies.

Molecular Actuators


Optical sensors

Research Projects include:

This project proposes to fabricate Optical Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (O-MEMS)for optical acceleration measurements. These would allow for more sensitive, accurate, and reliable measurements, exploiting advantages such as the linear relation between the velocity and the Doppler frequency shift, and the high, wavelength-dependent resolution levels achievable.
We develop a new mechanism for changing the architecture of microfluidic channels during device operation. Two co-streaming fluids are separated through a temporal wall using targeted gel formation inside a microfluidic channel. We derive explanations for this mechanism including scaling arguments for the wall thickness.
We are developing FPGA-base high-speed control for arrays of electrostatically driven micromirrors.
Plants capture photons very efficiently. Can we learn from them in making photovoltaic devices? We are investigating the use of photosynthetic protein complexes in solar cells, with the aim of creating very low cost solar cells.
A technology for 3D printing of biological tissue constructs that will better mimic the human physiology and expedite the drug discovery process. The first stage of this work is to develop a disposable and bio-compatible droplet-on-demand (DOD) system.
The countless number of applications urged a demand for high performance micro-accelerometers, which in turn continue to gain momentum. Within that framework, one must justify the need for an approach defined by a system level performance in closed loop integration, by understanding the current performance limitations in the state-of-the-art micro-accelerometers, in research, on the market, and when employed with other electrical components.
Gyroscopes are used to sense angular rate and when used along with accelerometers can be used as effective navigation sensors. Due to their tiny size(1cmx1cm)die and high sensitivity they could be used in minimally invasive surgery.
Modal Analysis
The objective of this project is to design and construct a confocal imaging engine using MOEMS technology and to couple this with Raman Spectroscopy system in order to form a handheld device with dual complementary capabilities: cellular-level resolved confocal skin imaging combined with accurate and precise Raman spectroscopy of specific subsurface skin microstructures in vivo.
Contractile polymers are applied to the tips of neuro-vascular catheters in order to help them navigate through the complex blood vessels found in the brain.
It is well known that carbon nanotubes and arrays of metal nanowires are ultra-strong. What is less well known is that voltage can be applied to make these materials contract and expand, creating impressive muscle like actuation. We are studying this new method of actuation and its initial applications.
Our research group is developing a variety of sensing devices fabricated using inkjet printing. We are exploring physical and chemical sensing technology for applications in air quality monitoring, structural health monitoring, breath analysis, and other important applications.
By integrating multiple molecular biology assay steps on a single microfluidic platform, we aim to detect the activity of telomerase, an enzyme upregulated in prostate cancer cells. This will hopefully provide detection of prostate cancer than currently possible, and demonstrate better specificity for cancer than prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests.
A significant challenge in research on nanostructures is the lack of sufficient control over the fabrication processes. Therefore, an important aspect of our research is the study of nanostructure fabrication processes with the goal of achieving higher levels of control and reproducibility.
When electrons are confined in one or more dimensions, their wave nature and quantum mechanical effects become very apparent. Devices such as quantum wires and quantum dots operate based on this principle. We work on fabricating such devices by exploiting the inherent properties of nanotubes and nanowires.
Nanoscale devices where the conducting channel is in vacuum are becoming more and more attractive as we search for new technologies to make devices working in the THz regime. We are investigating highly controllable nanoscale electron emitters to enable vacuum nano-electronic devices.
Due to the large surface-to-volume ratio of nanostructures, they are excellent candidates for ultra-high-sensitivity detection of chemicals and biological molecules. Our objective is the sensitive detection of RNA using such structures, with the ultimate goal of single-RNA detection.
We use techniques ranging from classical, continuum modeling, to molecular dynamics, to quantum mechanical simulations using the density functional theory and first-principles techniques such as the Hartree-Fock method. We investigate the mechanical properties, electronic structure, transport characteristics and optical properties of nanodevices.
The goal of this project is to design and construct a portable and cost effective magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) instrument that is capable of resolving features at microscale to image flow fields of complex fluids in capillary tubes.
Schematics of MRI for Flow Visualization Instrument
We are studying the properties of carbon nanotube (CNT) biosensors using numerical simulation. The research is focusing on the electronic transport through CNTs that are exposed to various amino acids and short peptides. Using a combination of molecular dynamics, density functional theory, and quantum transport calculations we are able to predict how the adsorption of these peptides affects the transport through the tubes.
CMUT arrays promise a new generation of ultrasound imaging systems, with applications in 3D and 4D (real-time 3D) non-invasive imaging or high-frequency imaging (ultrasound biomicroscopy). The project targets the development of a portable CMUT-based ultrasound imaging system, to be used for breast cancer detection and monitoring.
The objective of this project is to build an adaptive micro-optical systems using a 2D micromirror array adaptively controlled through digital signal processing algorithms implemented in reconfigurable hardware (FPGA)
We are developing technology for microflow control that is suitable for portable low-cost instruments. Building blocks are fully integratable devices including microvalves, micropumps and micromixers. Concerns are low power consumption, fast response time and low cost.
Compared to other patterning techniques, inkjet printing provides a very versatile and low cost microfabrication capability that can be used to implement organic electronic devices including printable sensors, transistors, LEDs, and photovoltaics. Inkjet technology can be used to pattern a variety of liquids including polymers, proteins, and various solvents. Inkjet patterns can be made on a variety of substrates and in 3D.
We design microfluidic environments for targeted investigations of colloid transport. Focus of this work are particle-particle interactions, as well as particle-wall interactions. This study will lead to design recommendations for robust microfluidic devices.
We develop methods for thermal modulation of the widths of microchannels during operation of microfluidic devices. This allows arbitrary modulation of the channel width after device fabrication so that flow rate and flow velocity can be set independently.
This project aims at developing arrays of micromirrors with high resonance frequencies and high tilt angles in all directions. The mirrors are actuated through electrostatic forces to reach continuous tilt angles. The mirrors are fabricated using multi user MEMS processes.
By embedding low dimensional (0D, 1D, 2D) materials such as nanowires, nanotubes and quantum dots in polymers, we want improve the conversion efficiency and extend the use of solar energy, as a viable clean energy solution. Significant improvements in photocurrent and photoabsorption of polymers doped with carbon nanotubes are promising for nanocomposite solar cells.