Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), which combine electrical and mechanical elements on a silicon microchip that measures less than the width of a human hair, are thought to be more impervious to radiation damage. But no one has done a careful study on the devices until now.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense, has awarded UofL a $1.05 million grant for three years to conduct such a study. UofL’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering is collaborating with Vanderbilt University on the project.

“This is a great example of the kind of groundbreaking research that our engineers do every day,” said John Usher, acting dean of the Speed School. “They are working – often in partnerships with other universities, agencies and companies – to make our world a better, and safer, place.”

UofL built the MEMS devices for the study in its Micro/Nano Technology Center and characterized them at the Speed School. The devices are being exposed to radiation at Vanderbilt’s Institute for Space and Defense Electronics and will be returned to UofL for follow-up studies.

Speed School professor Bruce Alphenaar, chairman of the electrical and computer engineering department, is principal investigator on the project. Kevin Walsh, Samuel T. Fife Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the founding director of the Micro/Nano Technology Center, and Shamus McNamara, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, are co-principal investigators.

“People haven’t done a lot of work in this area, so we don’t know exactly what to expect,” Alphenaar said. “But this type of study is essential before MEMS can be used in radiation-exposed environments.”

John Karman, III
John Karman joined the Office of Communications and Marketing in 2014 after a 20-plus year career as a Louisville journalist. He has served as director of media relations since 2015. In that role, he answers reporters’ inquiries and is the university’s main spokesperson. John was a reporter for Business First of Louisville from 1999 to 2013. There, he won numerous awards from the Louisville chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists and American City Business Journals, parent company to Business First. John can die happy after seeing the Chicago Cubs win the 2016 World Series, although he would also enjoy another title.