The chip that could change the world

April 10, 2000

(Blacksburg, Va.) -- On April 11, President Clinton presented a 1999 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) to Sanjay Raman, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech.

Raman was one of only 60 researchers from throughout the nation to receive a PECASE award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their research careers. Each PECASE researcher will receive a five-year grant of $500,000. The awards, presented during the ceremony at the White House, were established by the Clinton Administration in 1996 to recognize young researchers and help maintain U.S. leadership in scientific research.

As a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, Raman fabricated a millimeter-wave radar receiver -- including antennas and receiving circuitry -- on a single integrated circuit (IC) chip.

Now, he will attempt to develop methods of directly integrating antennas with the electronics used in wireless devices, such as cellular phones, on single IC chips. The ultimate goal of this line of research is to put all of the components of wireless technology on single-chip systems.

"Someday, the equivalent of a cell phone will be the size of a dress button or a small piece of jewelry," Raman says.

Last year, he received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program award, a four year grant worth about $200,000. CAREER awards are presented annually by the NSF to a select roster of faculty nationwide who have demonstrated early in their careers the potential to make significant contributions to engineering research and instruction. Raman was one of 20 1999 CAREER award recipients selected for the PECASE award.

The single IC chip technology Raman is developing will have a myriad of applications aside from use in personal communications systems. For example, Raman explains, environmental sensors on chips could be placed easily and inexpensively throughout buildings to monitor temperature and other conditions and radio messages back to a central control computer.

These wireless distributed sensors would be particularly useful on military ships and aircraft, freeing personnel from having to make manual checks on equipment conditions. Raman knows a great deal about the potential benefits for the military; he spent more than three years as an officer on a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine.

He also foresees medical applications. "Chips could be embedded in at-risk individuals to monitor for impending heart attacks and alert medical personnel via wireless communications before an attack actually occurs."

Raman also imagines a wireless "DNA crime lab on a chip," with one section of the device testing samples at a crime scene for DNA while another radios a central database for possible identification of the perpetrator.

"Ultimately," he believes, "wireless information technology will be so ubiquitous that people will be connected with networks wherever they roam. The key is to make the wireless nodes so small that they can be seamlessly integrated into virtually anything."

The educational component of Raman¹s work includes developing a graduate course in radio frequency integrated circuit design. With this added component, he says, Virginia Tech will offer one of the most comprehensive communications technology curriculums in the world.
Dr. Raman's homepage is:

The media contact at the NSF is Charles Drum 703-306-1070

Virginia Tech

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