Two ECE Alumni Among World's Top 100 Young Innovators
By Jim Kloeppel and Laura Schmitt
June 15, 2002
- ECE Assistant Professor Stephen Boppart and alumnus Douglas Barlage have been chosen as two of the world's 100 Top Young Innovators by Technology Review.
- The TR100 consists of people under age 35 whose innovative work in technology and business has a profound impact on the world. Nominees are recognized for their contribution in transforming the nature of technology in industries such as biotechnology, computing, energy, manufacturing, medicine, nanotechnology, telecommunications, and transportation.
ECE Assistant Professor Stephen Boppart and alumnus Douglas Barlage have been chosen as two of the world's 100 Top Young Innovators by Technology Review, MIT's magazine of innovation. The TR100 consists of people under age 35 whose innovative work in technology and business has a profound impact on the world. Nominees are recognized for their contribution in transforming the nature of technology in industries such as biotechnology, computing, energy, manufacturing, medicine, nanotechnology, telecommunications, and transportation.
Boppart (BSEE '90, MSEE '91) has helped to dramatically improve the resolution of optical coherence tomography (OCT), an imaging technique useful for medical diagnostics-such as the detection and removal of tumors at the cellular level. Similar in operation to ultrasound, OCT works by focusing a beam of near-infrared light (like that used in CD players) into tissue and measuring the intensity and position of the resulting reflections.
Boppart also converted the imaging hardware into a handheld probe that looks like a laser pointer. A version of this device is being used by surgeons at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston to see through a patient's skin and through internal tissue before making an incision.
In collaboration with Illinois chemistry professor Ken Suslick, Boppart is developing microspheres that enhance the contrast for OCT. The tiny spheres-filled with air or some other light-scattering media-create a stronger signal than the surrounding tissue.
"Our goal is to design very selectable contrast agents that we can inject intravenously and that will migrate and localize to a tumor," said Boppart, who also is a physician and a researcher at the Beckman Institute on campus. By enhancing contrast locally, the microspheres would permit OCT to be used both for early detection and for advanced tumor diagnostics.
Using high-resolution OCT or OCT contrast agents, scientists might be able to study how cells migrate through tissue and metastasize, Boppart said. "Enhanced OCT imaging could even provide surgical guidance - in real time - to help find a tumor and remove all of it, without taking too much of the surrounding tissue."
Barlage (MSEE '94, PhD '97), a senior device engineer at Intel in Hillsboro, OR, developed a measurement technique that has enabled Intel to create the world's smallest and fastest transistors. Barlage's transmission line model accurately measures the properties of the gate oxide for these record-breaking devices. The gate oxide is a thin layer that prevents transistors from leaking current, but it also limits their size and speed.
"We didn't really know how to do this correctly," said Barlage, describing the state of characterization technology before his discovery. "We couldn't tell a good oxide from a bad oxide. This took out all the ambiguity in all the experiments that we were running, and it has allowed us to pick the right things to do and go in the right direction."
The right direction has resulted in Intel creating transistors as small as 10 nanometers with gate oxides that are eight angstroms-or just three atoms-thick . A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Devices this small, though, are at least several years from production because of problems with current leaking from the oxide. Barlage and his colleagues are among the industry researchers trying to find a new insulating material (high-k dielectrics) to replace the workhorse silicon dioxide, which has been used as a gate dielectric for more than 30 years.
"Researchers have been able to shrink this thing continually since the late '60s and they've gotten higher and higher performance," said Barlage. "Now, to get the higher performance you have to change the material. It's really challenging to try to do that but it also makes the work a lot more exciting. I'm learning more about material science than I ever thought I would."
Boppart and Barlage were honored May 23 during a conference and awards ceremony at MIT. This is the second time Technology Review has recognized young scientists and engineers for their innovative work. In 1999, ECE alumnus Fred Kish Jr. (BSEE '88, MSEE '89, PhD '92), was named to the TR100 list. At the time, Kish was with Agilent Technologies. He is currently vice president for development and manufacturing at Infinera, a Silicon Valley optical components startup. In 2000, Kish received the first ECE Young Alumni Achievement Award.
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