The world is entering a new age of technology, and the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems (SSIM) Program at Wayne State University is blazing the trail. Located on the campus of a major, urban research institution, the program and its researchers are developing novel materials, methods and prototype devices for everything from automotive, environmental and biomedical applications to advances in energy, communications and aerospace technology. With a spectacular array of the latest equipment, multidisciplinary cooperation across the university and with industry scientists, and a highly productive educational program in place, the program has already become a forerunner in the remarkably promising new field of micro- and nanoengineering.
SSIM researchers here believe that almost nothing is impossible, and actively seek out complex projects that go beyond the limits of current technology to spur original ideas and shape new avenues of investigation. They are already developing tiny devices that can detect the smallest of quantities, survive the most severe of conditions and function at exceptionally fast speeds. A sampling of the projects already underway include:
Greater than the sum of its parts
- a three-dimensional ultrasound technique that detects the earliest stages of cancer;
- new drug-delivery techniques for targeted dosing, which has the potential to improve treatment outcomes while decreasing side effects;
- unique micromachining capabilities that assist in extremely delicate fetal and infant surgeries;
- neuro-implant chips for disease diagnosis and treatment, and possibly for the restoration of eyesight;
- chemical and biological sensors to detect air- and water-borne toxins, and to discriminate between levels of radiation exposure in humans;
- hydrogen sensors, which are already being tested on satellites;
- a room-temperature, infrared imaging array that can detect images over a broad range under adverse environments without costly cooling systems; and
- wide band gap semiconductors and silicon-carbide technology for high-power devices, which are key energy-regulating components for such uses as hybrid vehicles.
The SSIM program's multidisciplinary, "systems" approach is the basis of its success, and has helped forge the program's quickly growing national and international reputation.
Here, experienced and innovative WSU researchers from many departments, including electrical and computer, biomedical, mechanical and chemical engineering, computer science, physics, chemistry, biology, and the WSU med school work together with dozens of creative and talented scientists from industry, government labs, medical facilities including the Detroit Medical Center (DMC) and Henry Ford Health Systems (HFHS), and other institutions of higher learning. This unusually broad collaboration allows the program to perform all stages of project development from the fundamentals to application, or, as SSIM researchers like to say, "from atoms to man."
Every SSIM project has a very specific suite of requirements well-suited to a systems approach. Human neuroimplants, for instance, must be biocompatible, tiny, and have wireless power and data-transmission capabilities. This demands contributions from medical experts who describe the need, physicists who study and define the basic materials and physical needs, biologists who study the cellular interactions, engineers who build microdevices, and computer scientists who generate necessary programming. Likewise, industry professionals, physicists and engineers come together to develop automobile-engine sensors that must both withstand high temperatures and detect very small environmental changes. In short, all of the SSIM projects rely on contributions from researchers across extremely diverse fields and on a healthy spirit of collaboration.
The development of novel materials is a critical component of the research at the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Program. For years, semiconductors, integrated circuits, sensors and other electronic devices have been made from silicon, a marvelously versatile compound that ushered in the electronics era. As the need for ever-smaller and broader-use micromachines and sensors grows, however, scientists recognize that silicon has its limits. An all-silicon device, for example, fails in the high temperatures of automobile and other engines, and faces rejection when used as an implant in the human body.
In a revolutionary approach, researchers here are developing a wide variety of new materials to overcome these previously insurmountable hurdles. These span the gamut from organics and wide bandgap semiconductors to electroceramics and magnetic materials. Researchers have also pioneered processes that permit the integration of these materials with silicon to combine the benefits of both technologies.
A progressive program
For its students, the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Program at Wayne State University offers multidisciplinary, undergraduate and graduate curricula that combine lectures with hands-on laboratory work, and provide unparalleled opportunities to participate on cutting-edge research teams that are designing and making the products of tomorrow. Already, industry has taken notice of the caliber of the SSIM program and its students. Besides eagerly awaiting the next graduating class to enhance their employee bases, some organizations have enrolled members of their current staffs in SSIM courses, and others have worked with the program to create focused classes and even certificate programs to meet their needs.
A comprehensive educational program, innovative research using emerging technology and real-world applications - the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Program at Wayne State University is uniquely positioned to advance the new age of technology.