In the last 50 years, explosive growth in the field of electrical engineering has radically altered our lives – and the next 50 years will see even more radical changes! Electrical engineering is poised to revolutionize areas such as healthcare, energy supply, production automation, and communications.
The Centre for Wireless Technology at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) is one of the major players when it comes to ground-breaking electrical engineering research. The centre specializes in new technologies that will provide power for and speed up communication. We talked to Professor Marion Matters-Kammerer of the Integrated Circuits group to get the scoop on the latest developments in millimeter-wave and Terahertz electronics.
What exciting research projects have you worked on during the past 12 months?
Marion: We developed the first wireless temperature sensor that uses radio waves as a power source. We send energy wirelessly to a piece of silicon, which stores that energy briefly, uses it to measure temperature, and then sends a value back. Because the sensor uses radio waves it doesn’t need a battery.
The science behind this simple action is amazing! The chip’s circuitry and antenna fit in a sensor that’s just 2 square millimeters big. The sensor is connected to a wireless network and uses its antennae to draws energy from the radio waves in network. Once it has collected enough energy, the sensor activates, measures the temperature, then sends the reading back to the router.
The sensor will initially be used in smart buildings, but the same technology could also be used in payment systems, wireless identification systems, and production engineering applications. Developing the sensor was a joint effort with the Electromagnetics and Signal Processing Systems groups at TU/e, as well as the Centre for Wireless Technology. My group, the Integrated Circuits group, was responsible for the integrated circuits research.
Deeply satisfying work by the sounds of it. What developments do you see in three years’ time?
We will successfully combine photonics and electronics. We are already skilled in both areas and further fundamental research into these two areas will deliver innovative products in the mid-term. For example, we will be able to transmit more data through an optical fiber, data centers – which consume massive amounts of electrical power – will become more efficient, and we will start to apply terahertz technology. The key to achieving these developments is a high-speed photodiode that converts light to an electrical signal. The ingredients are already there. Some of the vital research has already been done in the Photonics Integration group and a strategy for photonic-electronic integration is being developed to overcome the technical challenges.
What is unique about the research carried out at TU/e?
The rather successful combination of government-funded fundamental research and applied science. I spent 11 years in applied research at Philips before coming to TU/e. My work in terahertz electronics for imaging and spectroscopy is far more fundamental in nature, but I always have possible applications in mind thanks to the TU/e’s close links with industry. Terahertz electronics is still in its infancy, but it has huge potential. Obtaining government funding is much easier if you can point to clear commercial and societal benefits.
TU/e’s contribution in these areas is outstanding. Would you recommend TU/e to other academics looking for a research position?
Definitely! TU/e differs from many other universities in that it offers tenure-track assistant professorships, not only postdoctoral positions, as the first position in an academic career. This gives young and talented scientists a clearly defined development route to follow that leads to a tenured associate professorship. The Department of Electrical Engineering also treats its employees well and encourages teamwork. Plus that close link to industry means that funding is readily available.
What unresolved question or dream inspires you?
Terahertz research is brand-new. You can compare it to the initial discovery of UV light or infra-red light. So the big question is, what can we do with it? My initial dream is to have a fully equipped lab at TU/e specifically for this area of research. We have have decided to invest in it next year! And our results will be transferred to spin-off companies such as TerraNova that I started some months ago together with colleagues from the Electrical Engineering and Physics department.
Professor Marion Matters-Kammerer is a full professor of electrical engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology and the coordinator of the THz research program at the Centre for Wireless Technology. She received her MSc in physics from Ecole Normale Supérieure and TU Berlin and her PhD in physics from RWTH Aachen.