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Winning Switch Technology

Photo of Patel
Electrical engineering Ph.D. student Chirag Patel won the top prize at Research Expo 2011.

Electrical engineering Ph.D. student Chirag Patel won the top prize - the Rudee Outstanding Poster Award - for his work on innovative RF MEMS metal-contact switches.

The winning switches route electrical signals using electrostatic fields. They are smaller, lighter and more reliable than the current technology known as "conventional electromagnetic relays," which route electrical signals using current pulses and magnetic fields. The switches could make their way into MRIs and other medical equipment, as well as satellites and electronic instrumentation, including spectrum analyzers and signal sources.

The weight and space savings the new switches provide could lead to large cost savings for satellite systems. Every gram counts when you put things into space, explained Patel, who works in the laboratory of Professor Gabriel M. Rebeiz from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The new switches also consume less power than conventional electromagnetic relays and could be used in demanding RF environments, including switching networks for automated test equipment, low-power base stations - and even cell phones of the future.

At the expo, Patel received some unexpected feedback on his work. During the final round of judging, the faculty judge from bioengineering asked what would happen if he put the switch in water. We would want to hire you tomorrow if this thing worked in water, the bioengineer said.

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