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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

Get Early Access to Emerging Technologies at
Research Expo at UC San Diego

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Chirag Patel, a Ph.D. student in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, presented an emerging technology at last year's Research Expo. 

San Diego, Calif., March 22 -- Radio-frequency relays based on electromagnetic actuation, which route electrical signals using current pulses and magnetic fields, are a common feature in modern electronics, from satellites to MRI machines. But they soon could be replaced by high-power, large-force, temperature-stable RF MEMS metal-contact switches, which route electrical signals using electro-statics fields. Chirag Patel, a Jacobs Fellow and currently a Ph.D. student at the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, presented the technology at last year’s Research Expo, an annual research, recruiting and networking event.

“It’s so simple,” Patel said. “It’s a switch that opens and closes. It’s like a light switch, but instead of using your fingers, you use voltage to flip it.”

Patel’s adviser, Gabriel M. Rebeiz, the Wireless Communications Industry Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Jacobs School, said the technology is likely to become common place in industry in just a few years. Rebeiz knows what he is talking about. He is considered as one of the fathers of RF MEMS, or radio frequency micro-electro-mechanical systems technology. He also has recently received the 2012 Intel Outstanding Researcher Award in Microsystems.

Patel’s research is just one example of how Research Expo attendees get early access to technology advances and trends, as well as face-time with the innovators.

The high-power metal-contact switches Patel worked on are hundreds to thousands of times smaller than the electromagnetic switches currently in use. As a result, they get higher frequency performance, improved reliability, and are much lighter, which could lead to significant savings. “It’s very expensive to put things in space, and so this can yield huge cost savings,” Patel said.

Several other graduate students from the Rebeiz lab are presenting related posters at this year’s Research Expo, which takes place from 1:30 to 6 p.m. April 12 at the Price Center at the UC San Diego.

Chenhui Niu is presenting “A Miniature RF MEMS Metal-contact Switch With High Biaxial and Stress-gradient Tolerance.

Hosein Zareie is presenting “High Power, High Q, High Reliability RF MEMS Switches.”

Wafer-scale phased arrays also are a hot topic in industry this year and graduate student Woorim Shin, from Rebeiz’s lab, will present “16 Element 110 GHz Phased Array Transmitter With Wafer-scale Integration.”  

Last year, Patel’s poster earned him the top poster prize at Research Expo, the Rudee Outstanding Poster award. (He used some of the prize money to buy a nice suit.) Following Research Expo, Patel interned at Qualcomm for six months. His internship focused on chip design for the next generation cell phones. He will return to Qualcomm as a senior engineer working in the same field as soon as he graduates. “It’s good to keep learning,” he said.

Another one of his research posters has been selected as a finalist at the 2012 IEEE International Microwave Symposium, which will take place in June in Montreal. Research Expo was great preparation for the conference, Patel said. He also said he enjoyed Research Expo’s interdisciplinary nature. During last year’s event, he found out that there was interest from bioengineers to use the metal-contact switches in water. Winning the award last year felt great, he said. “It’s a lot of validation.”

Research Expo at a glance

* More than 230 graduate students will present their latest work at the posters session from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

* Faculty members from each of the Jacobs School’s departments will talk about their groundbreaking research from 2:30 to 4:30 pm.

* The networking reception from 4:30 to 6 p.m. offers Research Expo attendees the opportunity to meet students, faculty, alumni and professionals from industry, government and nonprofit sectors.

Attend Research Expo, your brain will thank you.

Watch Patel explain the metal-contact switches technology:

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