Four CU-Boulder Faculty Win DARPA Awards For Microsystems Innovations

Published: April 15, 2008

Four new faculty in the mechanical engineering department at the University of Colorado at Boulder have been selected to receive Young Faculty Awards from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to support innovative research in microsystems technology.

Assistant Professors Scott Bunch, Harold Park, Wei Tan and Ronggui Yang are among 39 "rising stars" selected for the awards at 27 universities across the country. Each will receive a grant of about $150,000 to develop and validate their research ideas during the coming year.

CU-Boulder received the largest number of awards of any university in the competition. Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan received three faculty awards each.

DARPA's Young Faculty Award program is designed to seek out innovations from nontenured faculty in order to identify the next generation of researchers working in microsystems technology. The funded researchers are focusing on concepts that are "innovative, speculative and high-risk," according to the agency.

Bunch will focus on creating ultrathin membranes using graphene for a variety of applications in biotechnology, defense, energy and the environment. His goal is to create the thinnest possible membrane, consisting of a single layer of atoms, with the smallest pore sizes attainable and unprecedented mechanical stability.

Park will develop new computer-aided design tools for micro- and nano-electromechanical systems. These tools will be similar to those used to design and analyze aircraft, bridges and other structures, but will be created specifically for nano-scale materials, which have vastly different properties due to their much smaller size.

Tan will demonstrate and characterize a universal platform for nano-biosensors that can be taken into the field to analyze sophisticated samples. Her platform's three-layer design will facilitate its application to different types of biosensors, while precisely controlling the molecular configuration, density and thickness of samples to optimize selectivity.

Yang is researching highly efficient thermoelectric devices for applications ranging from solar-thermal utilization and waste heat recovery to on-chip power and thermal management in electronics. He plans to use the tunneling of surface plasmons to break through the material limitations of conventional devices and achieve greater efficiency.