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Major efforts on microsystems

Microsystems are an important research area for RIT. Here are a few examples of some of the projects the university's engineers and scientists are working on.

A micro device called the "silicon optical bench" is being developed at RIT. The device uses microscopic lenses and mirrors to direct a beam of light.
William Grande: Alignment of components is of critical importance in optical microsystems because light beams must precisely line up with mirrors and lenses or the system won't work. However, precisely placing microscopic components is difficult, slow and expensive. Grande, assistant professor of microelectronic engineering, is part of a team including engineers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp., Corning Rochester Photonics and Corning Inc. working together on a project called Advanced Optical Components for Silicon Bench Technology. The goal is to develop techniques that overcome the fabrication difficulties.

Ultimately, these techniques would have many applications in production of telecommunications devices.

P.R. Mukund: As microsystems become smaller, faster and more densely packed, problems can develop when components interact. Mukund, professor of electrical engineering, has a $600,000 award from the National Science Foundation/Semiconductor Research Corp. to develop a method of producing microsystems using hybrid "system on a chip" and "system on a package" technologies that overcome these problems. The initial project focuses on radio-frequency communications systems.

P.R. Mukund (center) is principal researcher on a project that has received $600,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation/Semi-conductor Research Corp. His team includes Jayanti Venkataraman (right), electrical engineering professor, and Santosh Kurinec, microelectronic engineering department head.
Mukund will be heading a team that includes Jayanti Venkataraman, electrical engineering professor, and Santosh Kurinec, microelectronic engineering professor, of RIT and Madhavan Swaminathan of Georgia Tech.

Michael Potter: Radio-frequency components for telecommunications think cell phones is the focus for Potter, RIT distinguished researcher. "The market is astronomical," Potter points out. "Market research predicts there will be 1.3 billion wireless subscribers by 2005 (up from 86 million today). And they all could be using components developed at RIT."

Potter is developing innovative approaches to overcome stiction in resonators, varactors and micro switches. "Stiction is the tendency for very small components to stick together. It is one of the more significant challenges facing MEMS developers," says Potter. Overcoming stiction will allow production of components that are significantly faster, smaller and less expensive than components currently in use.

Ryne Raffaelle: To power a device the size of a grain of pollen, a triple-A battery just won't do. Raffaelle, associate professor of physics, studies methods of generating, controlling and storing energy in very small systems.

Raffaelle, who joined RIT two years ago, also continues his work in this field with NASA's Glen Research Center. At RIT, he works closely with Thomas Gennett, associate professor of chemistry, on energy storage using tiny structures called carbon nanotubes.

David Sumberg: Associate professor of electrical engineering Sumberg, an expert in photonics, is at work on a system using laser beams and mirrors to control a signal. Such a system could be used in phased array communications systems, which are used for tracking objects. There are many applications: missile defense and air traffic control, for instance. Sumberg's experimental setup covers several square feet on the workbench.

He hopes to develop a MEMS device to do the same job. "You can put together a lot of systems that will do these tasks," says Sumberg. "What's novel, what's new, is to reduce this to a miniature system.

"Conceivably," says Sumberg, "if you can make the system small enough and cheap enough, you could have it in the front end of your car."