Skip to main content
  COVID-19 Information and Resources for ECE Students, Faculty, and Staff

A new kind of lens for tiny cameras

A UW ECE research team is developing a new type of lens that could help improve optical components anywhere there is a need for a tiny camera in a small space.

Learn More

A new kind of lens for tiny cameras Banner

Professor Denise Wilson receives IEEE Region 6 Outstanding Engineering Educator award

The award recognizes Wilson as an outstanding educator, facilitator and mentor, and it notes her excellence in adaptation and resilience to a broad range of learning environments, including remote learning.

Learn More

Professor Denise Wilson receives IEEE Region 6 Outstanding Engineering Educator award Banner

Using smartphone technology to build an inclusive and more equitable society in Myanmar

Pwint Htun (BSEE ‘97) is leveraging digital technology and using problem-solving skills she gained at UW ECE to assist the rural population in her native country.

Learn More

Using smartphone technology to build an inclusive and more equitable society in Myanmar Banner

New treatment allows some people with spinal cord injury to regain hand and arm function

UW ECE associate professor Chet Moritz and senior postdoctoral researcher Dr. Fatma Inanici have developed a new way to non-invasively, electrically stimulate spinal cord nerves in people with cervical spinal cord injury, resulting in dramatic functional gains.

Learn More

New treatment allows some people with spinal cord injury to regain hand and arm function Banner

Accelerating AI computing to the speed of light

A UW ECE research team led by associate professor Mo Li has developed an optical computing system that could contribute toward speeding up AI and machine learning while reducing associated energy and environmental costs.

Learn More

Accelerating AI computing to the speed of light Banner

A Distributed Remote FPGA lab at UW ECE

How might we apply remote learning beyond the pandemic? UW ECE assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein collaborated with four universities to set up FPGA circuit boards on campus so that students could remotely access and utilize real hardware located at all participating universities.

Learn More

A Distributed Remote FPGA lab at UW ECE Banner

News + Events

https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/a-new-kind-of-lens/
A new kind of lens for tiny cameras

A new kind of lens for tiny cameras

A UW ECE research team is developing a new type of lens that could help improve optical components anywhere there is a need for a tiny camera in a small space.

https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/ieee6-wilson-award/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/pwint-htun/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/spinal-stimulation/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/ai-computing/
Accelerating AI computing to the speed of light

Accelerating AI computing to the speed of light

A UW ECE research team led by associate professor Mo Li has developed an optical computing system that could contribute toward speeding up AI and machine learning while reducing associated energy and environmental costs.

https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/leveraging-this-moment/
A Distributed Remote FPGA lab at UW ECE

A Distributed Remote FPGA lab at UW ECE

How might we apply remote learning beyond the pandemic? UW ECE assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein collaborated with four universities to set up FPGA circuit boards on campus so that students could remotely access and utilize real hardware located at all participating universities.

741uweeViewNews Object
(
    [_showAnnouncements:protected] => 
    [_showTitle:protected] => 
    [showMore] => 
    [_type:protected] => spotlight
    [_from:protected] => newsawards_landing
    [_args:protected] => Array
        (
            [post_type] => spotlight
            [meta_query] => Array
                (
                    [0] => Array
                        (
                            [key] => type
                            [value] => news
                            [compare] => LIKE
                        )

                )

            [posts_per_page] => 6
            [post_status] => publish
        )

    [_jids:protected] => 
    [_taxa:protected] => Array
        (
        )

    [_meta:protected] => Array
        (
            [0] => Array
                (
                    [key] => type
                    [value] => news
                    [compare] => LIKE
                )

        )

    [_metarelation:protected] => AND
    [_results:protected] => Array
        (
            [0] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 20978
                    [post_author] => 27
                    [post_date] => 2021-01-25 11:34:27
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-25 19:34:27
                    [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News

[caption id="attachment_20979" align="alignright" width="550"]Illustration of comb drive Polarized light microscopy captured this colorful image of an electrostatic comb drive contained within the lens developed by the UW ECE research team. One thing that makes the team’s lens unique is that it uses metasurfaces — thin, fabricated plates that transmit and diffract light — activated and operated, or “actuated,” by this microelectromechanical system, or MEMS.[/caption]

Most of us use the cameras in our cellphones and laptop computers every day. However, many people don’t realize that miniature lenses are crucial for these devices to operate. As the size of digital electronics and other technologies continues to shrink, the demand for smaller, more efficient optical components is growing. Small cameras are useful tools for many applications, such as robotics and surveillance, aerospace, and biomedical systems. Most tiny cameras, as well as the devices they inhabit, would benefit from even smaller, more reliable and cost-effective lenses, but crafting lenses that are smaller than what exists in the market today is a challenge for engineers.

To be useful in most applications, a camera lens needs to be tunable — it must have the ability to focus and be able to zoom in and out on an image. However, most optical systems in current use are made up of relatively bulky elements that can be challenging to produce, or they use tuning mechanisms that require a large volume of space to work. Researchers have been tackling these problems for a while now, but the lenses that have been produced so far often have issues with respect to power consumption, tuning speed, fabrication cost and production scalability.

[caption id="attachment_20981" align="alignright" width="550"]Headshots of Zheyi Han, Shane Colburn, Arka Majumdar and Karl Böhringer The UW ECE research team, from left to right: graduate student Zheyi Han, recent graduate Shane Colburn, associate professor Arka Majumdar and professor Karl Böhringer[/caption]

In a recent paper published in Nature Microsystems & Nanoengineering, a UW ECE research team describes a new type of micro-optical device that successfully addresses these challenges. The team was led by professor Karl Böhringer, director of the Institute for Nano-Engineered Systems, and associate professor Arka Majumdar, who is also an associate professor in the UW Department of Physics, as well as a member of NanoES and the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute. The research was funded by Böhringer and Majumdar’s startup, Tunoptix, and the team fabricated their lens prototype in the Washington Nanofabrication Facility, which is supported by the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure through the National Science Foundation.

“We’ve built optical components that are small and compact, as well as fast and relatively easy to produce in mass fabrication processes,” Böhringer said. “Specifically, we’ve created a tunable lens, but the tuning is not happening in the conventional way that might come to mind, like what exists in a telescope or microscope.”

How the lens works

[caption id="attachment_20983" align="alignright" width="550"]image of the Alvarez lens Scanning electron microscope image of the MEMS-actuated platform carrying one of the two metasurface plates used in the lens. The metasurface plate shown is the square object at the center of the lens, flanked by the electrostatic comb drive on either side. The other metasurface plate is on a stationary substrate (not shown), which is overlaid on top of this platform.[/caption] In traditional optical systems, like what you might find in a telescope, microscope or binoculars, lenses are made out of clear glass or plastic elements and move closer to or further away from each other in order to focus or zoom in and out on an object. But the UW ECE team’s prototype works in an entirely different way. Instead of being glass or plastic, their lens is made out of silicon nitride, and it is shaped into thousands of comb-like nanostructures that flank two square plates coated with millions of microscopic 3D posts, called nanopillars. The square plates are considered “metasurfaces” because they are made out of an artificial sheet material constructed with sub-wavelength patterns. The plates transmit and diffract light, and they were fabricated in a unique process Majumdar developed in his lab. “These metasurfaces have an interesting property, in that if you design them properly, they can focus light,” Böhringer explained. “If you take these surfaces, place them in close proximity and move them relative to each other, you can actually create a lens with a tunable focal length.” The metasurfaces are extremely thin, almost two-dimensional, making the optical device only about two microns thick. For comparison, that is much thinner than the width of a human hair, which is approximately 70 microns thick. It is also thinner than the wavelength of infrared light, which the team used in their optics research. With metasurfaces, complex and bulky geometric lens curvatures can be converted into a space-saving, flat surface with a thickness measured in nanometers. And although this lens might seem difficult to build because it is intricate, complex and microscopic, the fabrication process uses already-existing semiconductor nanofabrication technologies. This means that the team’s lens can be scaled-up for low-cost, mass production. “This is a very different way of thinking about optics,” Majumdar said. “Each of the metasurfaces are not lenses on their own. They are completely different kinds of structures. But when you put them together and laterally displace them a little bit, you get a lens-like behavior.”

MEMS meets metasurface optics

[caption id="attachment_20985" align="alignright" width="550"]close-up of comb drive Scanning electron microscope image of the comb-like nanostructures that make up the electrostatic comb drive, which is part of the lens’ microelectromechanical system, or MEMS.[/caption] This type of optical lens is called an “Alvarez lens” because the physical principle it operates on was discovered by Luis Alvarez in the 1960s. What makes this Alvarez lens unique is that it uses metasurfaces that are activated and operated, or “actuated,” by a microelectromechanical system, or MEMS. “Our device is driven electrostatically. You’re applying a voltage, and the electrostatic field that you get between two different electrodes pulls the structures that make up the metasurfaces in a particular direction,” Böhringer explained. “If you use electrostatic actuation, it basically means there is no direct current flowing after the initial charge, and the power consumption is very low.” MEMS-actuation makes the lens capable of producing a change in focal length that is ten times larger than the actuated displacement of the plates that make up the metasurfaces. This translates to a wider tuning range than many of the comparable lenses on the market today. It is also very fast, with tuning speeds typically running under a millisecond. That is orders of magnitude faster than liquid tunable lenses, which are currently the industry standard and operate on a principle similar to the lenses in our eyes. “That’s really a major advantage compared to these liquid lenses, which have some inertia and some viscosity. They are much slower than these tiny structures that we built,” Majumdar said. “Another problem with liquid lenses is temperature instability. When you heat up a liquid, it expands more than a solid. A MEMS-actuated lens doesn’t have this temperature fluctuation problem as compared to liquid lenses.” The research team asserts that combining flat, super-thin metasurfaces together with the MEMS-driven Alvarez structure will allow for the ultimate miniaturization of optical devices with a tunable focal length, making their lens more mechanically and thermally robust than other engineering approaches, with key advantages such as fast tuning, compact size, light weight and low energy consumption.

What the future holds

[caption id="attachment_20986" align="alignright" width="550"]Close-up of nanopillars Scanning electron microscope image of the 3D nanopillars that cover the two metasurface plates that reside in the middle of the lens. The metasurfaces transmit and diffract light, and they were fabricated in a unique process Majumdar developed in his lab.[/caption] This research was conducted using infrared light. Next steps for the research team will be to scale-down the size of the nanopillars on the lens’ metasurfaces even further, in order to work with visible light, which has a shorter wavelength than infrared. This will increase the number of potential real-world applications for the technology. The team also wants to explore operating each of the nanopillars that reside on the lens’ metasurfaces independently. “These metasurfaces contain millions of light-scatterers, small, 3D nanopillars,” Majumdar said. “Currently, we are changing all of them at the same time, not moving them independently. But if you could start changing each of the elements separately, it would definitely change the way people think about optics and what is possible.” If the team were able to accomplish this next step, it would open up an entirely new line of research and new applications for the technology. “If this next step works, if we can really change millions of degrees of freedom in the lens’ nanopillars, then I can envision applications in deep tissue imaging,” Majumdar said. “You wouldn’t need to do X-ray imaging or MRIs in the traditional way. You could see everything inside your body with a cell phone camera. That’s the type of thing it would enable.” Operating each nanopillar independently would enable the lens to see through highly diffuse and dense materials (such as your body) in a manner somewhat similar to how a vehicle’s fog lights help to illuminate a cloudy night. “It’s also good to point out that there would be nothing outrageously expensive about that. It’s not a device that in the end would cost millions of dollars,” Böhringer added. “Of course, there is still a lot of research to be done to get something like that to work, but eventually, I think this could be something that’s in every household or maybe in every phone.” The ways in which the team’s MEMS-actuated metasurface Alvarez lens could evolve are admittedly a bit uncertain for now, but one thing is for sure — the lens this team has developed is desirable for a wide range of imaging and display applications today. In the future, it could help us see the world through tiny cameras like never before. [post_title] => A new kind of lens for tiny cameras [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => a-new-kind-of-lens [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-25 11:34:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-25 19:34:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20978 [menu_order] => 1 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20954 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2021-01-21 12:11:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-21 20:11:47 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_20955" align="alignright" width="620"]headshot of Denise Wilson on an abstract background IEEE Region 6, which represents the western half of the United States, named UW ECE professor Denise Wilson as recipient of their 2020 Outstanding Engineering Educator Award. The award recognizes Wilson as an outstanding educator, facilitator and mentor, and it notes her excellence in adaptation and resilience to a broad range of learning environments, including remote learning. Photo illustration by Chandler Simon[/caption] The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is one of the largest and most respected professional associations for electrical and electronic engineering in the world, with more than 423,000 members in over 160 countries. Recently, IEEE Region 6, which represents the western half of the United States, named professor Denise Wilson as recipient of their 2020 Outstanding Engineering Educator Award. The award recognizes Wilson as an outstanding educator, facilitator and mentor, and it notes her excellence in adaptation and resilience to a broad range of learning environments, including remote learning. Wilson has taught in the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering for over 20 years. She is a respected researcher and educator, an influential faculty mentor, and one of only a handful of individuals at the University who has investigated improving the process of engineering education itself through rigorous study and research. “I’m really grateful for this award because it gives me extra energy to pour back into my students,” Wilson said. “It allows me to go back into teaching with greater enthusiasm and affirms my interest in understanding how students learn and how to best support them.”

A respected researcher and educator

Wilson’s research interests extend from engineering education to studying women in the engineering workplace, to her technical research in sensors and photovoltaic systems. She is the author of two books and numerous publications. She is also managing director of Coming Alongside, an environmental services non-profit invested in translating current science into understandable and actionable language for all people. The organization seeks to minimize negative impacts of human activity on the environment and public health.
“Denise’s passion for teaching and mentoring extends well beyond the traditional classroom to study-abroad, K–12, her local community and almost every area of her life. She knows how to bring the best out of her students and colleagues, and for that alone, her impact will be everlasting.” — UW ECE assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein
Some of her notable work in engineering education includes “Mapping the Roads to Greater Engagement,” a study she led in 2015–2019, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. The project examined various factors that support and influence the ability of students to engage in classroom learning, including the roles of faculty, teaching assistants and peers in creating a supportive environment. “When you do research on a regular basis, you see teaching in a different way,” Wilson said. “The very set of skills that we use in the process of doing research — formulating problems, hypotheses and questions — provides us with a unique opportunity to use that practice in the classroom in a manner that doesn’t have everyone teaching the same way, but produces teachers in the classroom that work with and maximize the strengths they bring to the table.”

An outstanding faculty mentor

Wilson is passionately dedicated to providing engineering faculty, both through formal peer teaching review and through more informal mentoring, a pathway by which they can become the best and most unique teacher that their personal style and philosophy enables. Among her colleagues at the UW, educators at conferences she attends, and across her professional network, she seeks to support faculty, understand how individuals are strong, and help them set achievable, realistic goals with those strengths in mind. “When Denise speaks about engineering education research, I take notes,” said UW ECE assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein, who nominated Wilson for the award. “She has been coaching me to complement my years of teaching experience with scholarship to take my career to a new level.”

Supporting students through COVID-19 and beyond

Finding new and better ways to support students and improve the quality of their educational experience is a top priority for Wilson. She has been leading efforts at UW ECE to improve engineering education and remote learning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “During the COVID-19 crisis, Denise went above and beyond the call of duty to support her students and me personally in different ways,” Hussein said. “This prompted the award nomination, among many other reasons.” Last spring, Wilson led an initiative in the College of Engineering to research how COVID-19 was impacting engineering students at the UW and what types of support they most needed heading into the fall. Based on what she learned from the study and her own teaching experience, she held a workshop for UW ECE faculty and staff to help guide their approach to remote learning. Going forward, she will offer an expanded session on this topic at the American Society for Engineering Education conference in July 2021. She is also in the process of more broadly distributing best practices from her spring quarter research to engineering programs across the country. “Denise’s passion for teaching and mentoring extends well beyond the traditional classroom to study-abroad, K–12, her local community and almost every area of her life,” Hussein wrote in Wilson’s award nomination. “She knows how to bring the best out of her students and colleagues, and for that alone, her impact will be everlasting.” [post_title] => Professor Denise Wilson receives IEEE Region 6 Outstanding Engineering Educator award [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ieee6-wilson-award [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-21 13:04:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-21 21:04:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20954 [menu_order] => 2 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20844 [post_author] => 26 [post_date] => 2021-01-14 08:40:34 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-14 16:40:34 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam, UW ECE News  |  Photos and captions by Paula Bock, Mobilizing Myanmar [caption id="attachment_20886" align="alignleft" width="587"] Pwint Htun (’97), co-founder, Mobilizing Myanmar[/caption] Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia sandwiched between Bangladesh, India, China and Thailand, is one of the least developed nations on earth. It has poorly maintained roads and a weak electrical grid that is inaccessible to most people in rural areas. So, it can come as quite a surprise to learn that despite its lack of development, almost everyone in this country owns or has easy access to a low-cost, fast and reliable smartphone. This is in large part thanks to Pwint Htun, a former refugee from Myanmar who received her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from UW ECE (then UW EE) in 1997. After graduation, Htun went on to a successful telecommunications career, working for companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Clearwire and T-Mobile, where she was part of a team that contributed to development of the first Android smartphone. Over the past eight years, she has focused her formidable talents and energy on solving a complex and difficult problem in her native country of Myanmar — how to connect the large, rural population to the rest of the world in order to empower people economically and ensure they don’t get left behind. “In my four years at the UW, there was a lot of focus on problem-solving, learning to ask the right questions to solve problems, and that is what has been really helpful for me,” Htun said. “The problems that I solve now are different than they were before, but it’s still the same methodology — tackling what may seem like a big problem and then chunking it into small pieces, figuring out ‘who, what, when, how,’ and then making small progress to achieve the larger goal.”
“The most important thing to know about technology is that it is a great tool, and a great enabler to reduce inequalities.” — Pwint Htun
By working closely with Myanmar’s Ministry of Communications and Central Bank, and partners such as the Gates Foundation, Htun led an effort to make smartphone connectivity and financial services more accessible and affordable for everyone in the nation. She has made major strides in digitally connecting the country over the last eight years, drafting regulations for the mobile financial services industry and significantly improving Myanmar’s telecommunications landscape. Eight years ago, Myanmar was the third least-connected country on the planet. Today, Myanmar has a smartphone penetration rate of 114%, which means there are more smartphones than people in the country. This is a higher mobile penetration rate than in either the U.S. or Germany, and the phones are speedy — over 94% of the population has 3G or 4G coverage. Also, over 64,000 mobile financial service providers across the country called “mobile money agents” — individuals who own small shops in cities, towns and villages across Myanmar and function like human ATMs  — help to provide digital financial services to their communities. The country has seen digital financial transactions increase approximately 800% in the last year. “The most important thing to know about technology is that it is a great tool, and a great enabler to reduce inequalities,” Htun said. “If we choose to focus on altruistic uses of the technology, there is a huge potential to bring about change.” [caption id="attachment_20883" align="alignright" width="524"] In a rural village in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta, Pwint Htun teaches midwives to download apps, part of a multisector project to improve nutrition for pregnant women in a region with the nation’s highest connectivity — and also the highest rate of child stunting.[/caption]

Benefits and unexpected impacts of smartphones

Ease of access to smartphones and digital financial services are bringing sweeping changes and far-reaching benefits to the people of Myanmar, especially the rural population. Digital technology has made economic opportunities within the country more accessible to those in rural areas, and it enables people to connect with friends and family both inside and outside the country anywhere, anytime. The ability to send and receive money electronically helps to create a financial safety net for people in Myanmar as well, enabling those in urban areas to send money to loved ones in rural villages and vice versa. Access to digital financial services also reduces the need to carry large amounts of cash, which has enhanced physical safety for many people, such as women and migrant workers who are more vulnerable to physical attacks and robbery. “In Myanmar, there are many domestic migrant workers, as well as international migrant workers,” Htun said. “If you’re a migrant worker, you don’t have access to a bank account, because banks are only open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You’re going to be at work then, and your salary is paid out in cash. So, what do you do? You just carry the money on your body.” With easily accessible mobile money agents all across the country, people can now digitize their cash at almost any time of day, and even receive digital payments instead of cash, which helps to provide some much-needed financial security. The government is also working on digitizing its payments to citizens, which will help to further enhance this social safety net.
“In the future, it’s not going to be the developed world versus the developing world, it’s going to be the digitized world versus the unconnected world. I hope that people in Myanmar become fully a part of the digitized world. They have the perfect ingredients, they just need to take that next step.” — Pwint Htun
Htun is also focused on fostering economic empowerment for women, who have been shown in many societies, including Myanmar, to spread wealth throughout communities more rapidly and effectively than men. This has a stabilizing effect on the culture at-large. According to studies cited by Htun, this is because women spend, on average, 90 percent of their earned income on their families — food, education and health care — while men spend only 30–40 percent of their income on family and the community. [caption id="attachment_20885" align="alignleft" width="450"] In rural Shan state, a strawberry farmer uses Facebook Messenger to inform a buyer of how much produce she shipped to him; he pays her digitally. Because she had to quit school in the fourth grade, the farmer wants her daughters to get a good education. Her oldest daughter, who attends a distance-learning college, taught her mom to use mobile money.[/caption] “It’s a very big, ambitious goal to tackle — to shift more resources into women’s hands,” Htun said. “When we considered women in Myanmar’s rural areas, we realized that the best way to get them to become more economically empowered is to get them to become more digitally literate, digitally savvy, so that the phone that is already in their hands can become a tool for them to earn more income.” There have been a couple other significant benefits of this technology that were unexpected and unplanned by either Htun or the Myanmar government. One was nudged into existence in large part by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has had the effect of putting Myanmar’s move toward smartphones and digital financial services on fast-forward. “COVID-19 has accelerated digital adoption around the country. What we told people was possible, COVID-19 is forcing them to do. For example, if you’re a blind person in Myanmar, usually the only type of paid work available to you is working as a massage therapist. COVID-19 shut these businesses down, and there is no unemployment system in Myanmar,” Htun explained. “But I taught three blind people how to use mobile money, and it has spread like wildfire. They have taught each other, and hundreds of blind people in Myanmar now have opened a digital wallet, which allows them to receive money from friends, family and those who want to help. So, it’s really benefiting the blind population.” The other unexpected benefit has been a rapid adoption of solar power. “The majority of people in Myanmar don’t have access to grid electricity. As of this year, only 50% of the population has access. But what has happened is that people want to be connected to their loved ones, so they buy smartphones,” Htun said. “They have to figure out a way to charge the phones off the grid, so many people end up investing in inexpensive solar panels. It’s the positive externality of telecommunication liberalization in Myanmar, where people in their desire to connect digitally decide that they need to have access to solar panels and prioritized that.” [caption id="attachment_20882" align="alignright" width="420"] Htun instructs trainers from grassroots women’s organizations who will then teach digital literacy and livelihood skills to other village women. This sustainable approach empowers women to continue learning from each other as technology evolves.[/caption]

Teaching digital literacy and moving into a connected world

Of course, not every unexpected impact from Myanmar’s leap into digital technology has been positive. Like many other societies around the world, the country has suffered from the spread of disinformation, which proliferates more rapidly online. Fake news (such as a popular rumor in Myanmar that onions can cure COVID-19) and hate groups can also be empowered by technology, so Htun is actively working to implement digital literacy education. “Technology is a tool, and like any other tool, it is a double-edged sword,” Htun said. “The most important thing is to teach people positive ways of using technology, so it can overwhelm negative uses of technology. I work a lot on digital literacy for that reason.” Next steps for Htun include continuing to expand Myanmar’s network of female mobile money agents, implementing quick-response (QR) codes across the country to ensure accessibility, ease and speed of financial transactions, and encouraging the government to digitize all payments and bureaucratic, paperwork-driven processes to reduce friction, corruption and better serve the people of Myanmar. “In the future, it’s not going to be the developed world versus the developing world, it’s going to be the digitized world versus the unconnected world. I hope that people in Myanmar become fully a part of the digitized world. They have the perfect ingredients, they just need to take that next step.”   [caption id="attachment_20884" align="alignleft" width="508"] Life in remote northern Chin state is like stepping back a century in time — except for the smartphone in the toddler hands of the next generation. In a nation where 38 percent of the population lives below the global poverty line, mobile money can transform society as women safely earn and save money, network with each other, escape poverty and gain power.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20881" align="alignright" width="540"] After using her digital wallet to get cash from a mobile money agent at a roadside stall, this grandma wheels around on the dusty roads of northern Shan State, phone in hand. Because Myanmar has extensive network coverage and pervasive smartphone usage (even among the poor), it’s an ideal place to test innovations and demonstrate how unbanked women can empower themselves using digital tools.[/caption] [post_title] => Using smartphone technology to build an inclusive and more equitable society in Myanmar [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => pwint-htun [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-14 08:40:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-14 16:40:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20844 [menu_order] => 4 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20841 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2021-01-12 11:31:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-12 19:31:10 [post_content] => Story by Sarah McQuate | UW News Almost 18,000 Americans experience traumatic spinal cord injuries every year. Many of these people are unable to use their hands and arms and can’t do everyday tasks such as eating, grooming or drinking water without help. Using physical therapy combined with a noninvasive method of stimulating nerve cells in the spinal cord, University of Washington researchers helped six Seattle area participants regain some hand and arm mobility. That increased mobility lasted at least three to six months after treatment had ended. The research team published these findings Jan. 5 in the journal IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering. [caption id="attachment_20892" align="alignright" width="600"]female researcher applies spinal stimulation pads to the back of study participant's neck Fatma Inanici applies small patches that will deliver electrical currents to the injured area on a participant’s neck. Note: This photo was taken in 2018. Marcus Donner/Center for Neurotechnology[/caption] “We use our hands for everything — eating, brushing our teeth, buttoning a shirt. Spinal cord injury patients rate regaining hand function as the absolute first priority for treatment. It is five to six times more important than anything else that they ask for help on,” said lead author Dr. Fatma Inanici, a UW senior postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering who completed this research as a doctoral student of rehabilitation medicine in the UW School of Medicine. “At the beginning of our study,” Inanici said, “I didn’t expect such an immediate response starting from the very first stimulation session. As a rehabilitation physician, my experience was that there was always a limit to how much people would recover. But now it looks like that’s changing. It’s so rewarding to see these results.” After a spinal cord injury, many patients do physical therapy to help them attempt to regain mobility. Recently, a series of studies have shown that implanting a stimulator to deliver electric current to a damaged spinal cord could help paralyzed patients walk again. [caption id="attachment_20894" align="alignleft" width="600"]photo of hand picking up a small bead Participants progressed to more difficult versions of the training exercises (for example, going from picking up a ping pong ball to picking up a tiny bead, shown here) as they improved. Note: This photo was taken in 2019. Marcus Donner/Center for Neurotechnology[/caption] The UW team, composed of researchers from the Center for Neurotechnology, combined stimulation with standard physical therapy exercises, but the stimulation doesn’t require surgery. Instead, it involves small patches that stick to a participant’s skin like a Band-Aid. These patches are placed around the injured area on the back of the neck where they deliver electrical pulses. The researchers recruited six people with chronic spinal cord injuries. All participants had been injured for at least a year and a half. Some participants couldn’t wiggle their fingers or thumbs while others had some mobility at the beginning of the study. To explore the viability of using the skin-surface stimulation method, the researchers designed a five-month training program. For the first month, the researchers monitored participants’ baseline limb movements each week. Then for the second month, the team put participants through intensive physical therapy training, three times a week for two hours at a time. For the third month, participants continued physical therapy training but with stimulation added. “We turned on the device, but they continued doing the exact same exercises they did the previous month, progressing to slightly more difficult versions if they improved,” Inanici said. For the last two months of the study, participants were divided into two categories: Participants with less severe injuries received another month of training alone and then a month of training plus stimulation. Patients with more severe injuries received the opposite — training and stimulation first, followed by only training second. [caption id="attachment_20898" align="alignleft" width="800"]Graphic showing frequency of electrical stimulation for study participants The researchers designed a five-month training program that included month-long regimens of training alone or training with stimulation.Inanici et. al, IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering[/caption] While some participants regained some hand function during training alone, all six saw improvements when stimulation was combined with training. “Both people who had no hand movement at the beginning of the study started moving their hands again during stimulation, and were able to produce a measurable force between their fingers and thumb,” said senior author Chet Moritz, a UW associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, rehabilitation medicine and physiology and biophysics. “That’s a dramatic change, to go from being completely paralyzed below the wrists down to moving your hands at will.” In addition, some participants noticed other improvements, including a more normal heart rate and better regulation of body temperature and bladder function. The team followed up with participants for up to six months after training and found that these improvements remained, despite no more stimulation. “We think these stimulators bring the nerves that make your muscles contract very close to being active. They don’t actually cause the muscle to move, but they get it ready to move. It’s primed, like the sprinter at the start of a race,” said Moritz, who is also the co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology. “Then when someone with a spinal cord injury wants to move, the few connections that might have been spared around the injury are enough to cause those muscles to contract.” [caption id="attachment_20896" align="alignright" width="600"]CNT researchers Chet Moritz and Dr. Fatma Inanici work with study participant on grip strength Chet Moritz (left) and Fatma Inanici (center) observe as a participant (right) measures grip strength (by squeezing the device in his hand). The participant has sensors on his arms (black cases) to measure his arm muscle activity during the task. Note: This photo was taken in 2019. Marcus Donner/Center for Neurotechnology[/caption] The research is moving toward helping people in the clinic. The results of this study have already informed the design of an international multi-site clinical trial that will be co-led by Moritz. One of the lead sites will be at the UW. “We’re seeing a common theme across universities — stimulating the spinal cord electrically is making people better,” Moritz said. “But it does take motivation. The stimulator helps you do the exercises, and the exercises help you get stronger, but the improvements are incremental. Over time, however, they add up into something that’s really astounding.” Lorie Brighton, a research scientist at the UW; Soshi Samejima, a UW doctoral student in rehabilitation medicine; and Dr. Christoph Hofstetter, an associate professor of neurological surgery in the UW School of Medicine, are co-authors on this paper. This research was funded by the Center for Neurotechnology, the Washington State Spinal Cord Injury Consortium and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. For more information, contact Inanici at finanici@uw.edu and Moritz at ctmoritz@uw.edu. Grant number: EEC-1028725 [post_title] => New treatment allows some people with spinal cord injury to regain hand and arm function [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => spinal-stimulation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-12 11:31:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-12 19:31:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20841 [menu_order] => 5 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20815 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2021-01-06 10:39:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-06 18:39:28 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_20847" align="alignright" width="595"] A UW ECE research team led by associate professor Mo Li, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Maryland, has developed an optical computing system that could contribute toward speeding up AI and machine learning — and thus the performance of our favorite software applications — while reducing associated energy and environmental costs. The team is also among the first in the world to use phase-change material in optical computing to enable image recognition by an artificial neural network, a benchmark test of a neural network’s computing speed and precision. (Illustration by Ryan Hoover)[/caption] Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are already an integral part of our everyday lives online, although many people may not yet realize that fact. For example, search engines such as Google are facilitated by intelligent ranking algorithms, video streaming services such as Netflix use machine learning to personalize movie recommendations, and cloud computing data centers use AI and machine learning to facilitate a wide array of services. The demands for AI are many, varied and complex. As those demands continue to grow, so does the need to speed up AI performance and find ways to reduce its energy consumption. On a large scale, energy costs associated with AI and machine learning can be staggering. For example, cloud computing data centers currently use an estimated 200 terawatt hours per year — more than a small country — and that energy consumption is forecasted to grow exponentially in coming years with serious environmental consequences. Now, a research team led by associate professor Mo Li at the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Maryland, has come up with a system that could contribute toward speeding up AI while reducing associated energy and environmental costs. In a paper published January 4, 2021, in Nature Communications the team described an optical computing core prototype that uses phase-change material (a substance similar to what CD-ROMs and DVDs use to record information). Their system is fast, energy efficient and capable of accelerating neural networks used in AI and machine learning. The technology is also scalable and directly applicable to cloud computing, which uses AI and machine learning to drive popular software applications people use everyday, such as search engines, streaming video, and a multitude of apps for phones, desktop computers and other devices. [caption id="attachment_20823" align="alignleft" width="450"]Mo Li and Changming Wu headshots UW ECE associate professor Mo Li (left) and UW ECE graduate student Changming Wu (right) led the research team that built the optical computing system prototype. Their system uses phase-change material (a substance similar to what CD-ROMs and DVDs use to record information) to facilitate AI computing speed and energy efficiency.[/caption] “The hardware we developed is optimized to run algorithms of an artificial neural network, which is really a backbone algorithm for AI and machine learning,” Li said. “This research advance will make AI centers and cloud computing more energy efficient and run much faster.” The team is among the first in the world to use phase-change material in optical computing to enable image recognition by an artificial neural network. Recognizing an image in a photo is something that is easy for humans to do, but it is computationally demanding for AI. Because image recognition is computation-heavy, it is considered a benchmark test of a neural network’s computing speed and precision. The team demonstrated that their optical computing core, running an artificial neural network, could easily pass this test. “Optical computing first appeared as a concept in the 1980s, but then it faded in the shadow of microelectronics,” said lead author Changming Wu, who is an electrical and computer engineering graduate student working in Li’s lab. “Now, because of the end of Moore’s law [the observation that the number of transistors in a dense, integrated circuit doubles about every two years], advances in integrated photonics, and the demands of AI computing, it has been revamped. That’s very exciting.”

Speeding up hardware and software performance

Optical computing is fast because it uses light generated by lasers — instead of the much slower electricity used in traditional digital electronics — to transmit information at mind-boggling speeds. The prototype the research team developed was designed to accelerate computational speed of an artificial neural network, and that computing speed is measured in billions and trillions of operations per second. According to Li, future iterations of their device hold the potential to go even faster. “This is an early prototype, and we are not using the highest speed possible with optics yet,” Li said. “Future generations show the promise of going at least an order of magnitude faster.” In the eventual real-world application of this technology, that means any software powered by optical computing through the cloud — such as search engines, video streaming and cloud-enabled devices — would run faster as well, improving performance.

Increased energy efficiency

Li’s research team took their prototype one step further by using phase-change material to store data and perform computing operations by detecting the light transmitted through the material. Unlike transistors used in digital electronics that require a steady voltage to represent and hold the zeros and ones used in binary computing, phase-change material doesn’t require any energy at all to hold this information. Just like in a CD or DVD, when phase-change material is heated precisely by lasers it switches between a crystalline and an amorphous state. The material then holds that state or “phase,” along with the information the phase represents (a zero or one), until it is heated again by the laser. “There are other competing schemes to construct optical neural networks, but we think using phase-changing material has a unique advantage in terms of energy efficiency because the data is encoding in a non-volatile way, meaning that the device, using phase-changing material, does not consume a constant amount of power to store the data,” Li explained. “Once the data is written there, it’s always there. You don’t have to supply power to keep it in place.” This energy-savings matters, in that when it is multiplied by millions of computer servers at thousands of data centers around the world, the reduction in energy consumption and environmental impact will be significant.

Optimizing and scaling up for the real world

The team further enhanced the phase-change material used in their optical computing core by patterning the material into nanostructures. These microscopic constructions improve the material’s endurance and stability, it’s contrast (the ability to distinguish between zero and one in binary code), and enable greater computational capacity and precision. Li’s research team also fully integrated phase-change material into the prototype’s optical computing core. “Here, we are doing everything we can to integrate optics,” Wu said. “We put the phase-change material on top of a waveguide, which is a tiny little wire we carve on the silicon chip that guides light. You can think of it as an electrical wire for light, or as an optical fiber carved on the chip.” Li’s research team asserts that the method they developed is one of the most scalable approaches to optical computing technologies currently available, eventually applicable to large systems such as networked cloud computing servers at data centers around the world. “Our design architecture is scalable to a much, much larger network that can handle challenging artificial intelligence tasks ranging from large, high-resolution image recognition to video processing and video image recognition,” Li said. “Our scheme is the most promising one, we believe, that’s scalable to that level. Of course, that will take industrial-scale semiconductor manufacturing. Our scheme and the material that makes up the prototype are all very compatible with semiconductor foundry processes.”

The future is light

Looking forward, Li said he could envision optical computing devices, such as the one his team developed, providing a further boost to the computational performance of current technology and enabling the next generation of artificial intelligence. To move in that direction, the next steps for his research team will be to scale up the prototype they built by working closely with UW ECE associate professor Arka Majumdar and assistant professor Sajjad Moazeni, experts in large-scale integrated photonics and microelectronics. And after the technology is scaled up sufficiently, it will lend itself to future integration with energy-hungry data centers, speeding up the performance of software applications facilitated by cloud computing and driving down energy demands. “Nowadays in data centers, the computers are already connected by optical fibers. This provides the ultra-high bandwidth communication that is really needed,” Li said. “So, it’s logical to perform optical computing in such a setting because fiber optics infrastructure is already done. It’s exciting, and I think the time is about right for optical computing to emerge again.” The research described in this article is supported by the Office of Naval Research through a Department of Defense Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program. [post_title] => Accelerating AI computing to the speed of light [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ai-computing [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-07 13:15:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-07 21:15:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20815 [menu_order] => 6 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20769 [post_author] => 26 [post_date] => 2020-12-30 11:26:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-12-30 19:26:10 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_20760" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Dr. Rania Hussein with the remote FPGA lab. Photo: Ryan Hoover | UW ECE[/caption]   UW ECE assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein collaborated with educators at four universities — University of Michigan, Monash University in Malaysia, The Public University of Navarre UPNA in Spain and the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil — to create a distributed remote FPGA lab. Students can remotely access real hardware located at any of the participating universities. Professor Hussein piloted this project in her EE/CSE 371 “Design of Digital Circuits & Systems” course last fall. Instead of shipping lab kits to the 60 students enrolled in her course, she had students use the remote lab to access hardware on campus as well as at the other universities. Read the full UW College of Engineering story here.   [caption id="attachment_20779" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] 4 FPGA boards out of 8 connected to the distributed remote lab. Photo: Ryan Hoover | UW ECE[/caption]   [post_title] => A Distributed Remote FPGA lab at UW ECE [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => leveraging-this-moment [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-12-31 11:12:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-12-31 19:12:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20769 [menu_order] => 7 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [_numposts:protected] => 6 [_rendered:protected] => 1 [_classes:protected] => Array ( [0] => view-block [1] => block--spotlight-robust-news ) [_finalHTML:protected] =>
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/a-new-kind-of-lens/
A new kind of lens for tiny cameras

A new kind of lens for tiny cameras

A UW ECE research team is developing a new type of lens that could help improve optical components anywhere there is a need for a tiny camera in a small space.

https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/ieee6-wilson-award/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/pwint-htun/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/spinal-stimulation/
https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/ai-computing/
Accelerating AI computing to the speed of light

Accelerating AI computing to the speed of light

A UW ECE research team led by associate professor Mo Li has developed an optical computing system that could contribute toward speeding up AI and machine learning while reducing associated energy and environmental costs.

https://www.ece.uw.edu/spotlight/leveraging-this-moment/
A Distributed Remote FPGA lab at UW ECE

A Distributed Remote FPGA lab at UW ECE

How might we apply remote learning beyond the pandemic? UW ECE assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein collaborated with four universities to set up FPGA circuit boards on campus so that students could remotely access and utilize real hardware located at all participating universities.

[_postID:protected] => 184 [_errors:protected] => Array ( ) [_block:protected] => [_db:protected] => WP_Query Object ( [query] => Array ( [post_type] => spotlight [meta_query] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [key] => type [value] => news [compare] => LIKE ) ) [posts_per_page] => 6 [post_status] => publish ) [query_vars] => Array ( [post_type] => spotlight [meta_query] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [key] => type [value] => news [compare] => LIKE ) ) [posts_per_page] => 6 [post_status] => publish [error] => [m] => [p] => 0 [post_parent] => [subpost] => [subpost_id] => [attachment] => [attachment_id] => 0 [name] => [pagename] => [page_id] => 0 [second] => [minute] => [hour] => [day] => 0 [monthnum] => 0 [year] => 0 [w] => 0 [category_name] => [tag] => [cat] => [tag_id] => [author] => [author_name] => [feed] => [tb] => [paged] => 0 [meta_key] => [meta_value] => [preview] => [s] => [sentence] => [title] => [fields] => [menu_order] => [embed] => [category__in] => Array ( ) [category__not_in] => Array ( ) [category__and] => Array ( ) [post__in] => Array ( ) [post__not_in] => Array ( ) [post_name__in] => Array ( ) [tag__in] => Array ( ) [tag__not_in] => Array ( ) [tag__and] => Array ( ) [tag_slug__in] => Array ( ) [tag_slug__and] => Array ( ) [post_parent__in] => Array ( ) [post_parent__not_in] => Array ( ) [author__in] => Array ( ) [author__not_in] => Array ( ) [orderby] => menu_order [order] => ASC [ignore_sticky_posts] => [suppress_filters] => [cache_results] => 1 [update_post_term_cache] => 1 [lazy_load_term_meta] => 1 [update_post_meta_cache] => 1 [nopaging] => [comments_per_page] => 50 [no_found_rows] => ) [tax_query] => WP_Tax_Query Object ( [queries] => Array ( ) [relation] => AND [table_aliases:protected] => Array ( ) [queried_terms] => Array ( ) [primary_table] => wp_posts [primary_id_column] => ID ) [meta_query] => WP_Meta_Query Object ( [queries] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [key] => type [value] => news [compare] => LIKE ) [relation] => OR ) [relation] => AND [meta_table] => wp_postmeta [meta_id_column] => post_id [primary_table] => wp_posts [primary_id_column] => ID [table_aliases:protected] => Array ( [0] => wp_postmeta ) [clauses:protected] => Array ( [wp_postmeta] => Array ( [key] => type [value] => news [compare] => LIKE [compare_key] => = [alias] => wp_postmeta [cast] => CHAR ) ) [has_or_relation:protected] => ) [date_query] => [request] => SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS wp_posts.ID FROM wp_posts INNER JOIN wp_postmeta ON ( wp_posts.ID = wp_postmeta.post_id ) WHERE 1=1 AND ( ( wp_postmeta.meta_key = 'type' AND wp_postmeta.meta_value LIKE '{333baf0bbcaf5e439da5fcb5696cf37008ff7de50f7764e1a0a2f7e101f684ae}news{333baf0bbcaf5e439da5fcb5696cf37008ff7de50f7764e1a0a2f7e101f684ae}' ) ) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'spotlight' AND ((wp_posts.post_status = 'publish')) GROUP BY wp_posts.ID ORDER BY wp_posts.menu_order ASC LIMIT 0, 6 [posts] => Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20978 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2021-01-25 11:34:27 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-25 19:34:27 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_20979" align="alignright" width="550"]Illustration of comb drive Polarized light microscopy captured this colorful image of an electrostatic comb drive contained within the lens developed by the UW ECE research team. One thing that makes the team’s lens unique is that it uses metasurfaces — thin, fabricated plates that transmit and diffract light — activated and operated, or “actuated,” by this microelectromechanical system, or MEMS.[/caption] Most of us use the cameras in our cellphones and laptop computers every day. However, many people don’t realize that miniature lenses are crucial for these devices to operate. As the size of digital electronics and other technologies continues to shrink, the demand for smaller, more efficient optical components is growing. Small cameras are useful tools for many applications, such as robotics and surveillance, aerospace, and biomedical systems. Most tiny cameras, as well as the devices they inhabit, would benefit from even smaller, more reliable and cost-effective lenses, but crafting lenses that are smaller than what exists in the market today is a challenge for engineers. To be useful in most applications, a camera lens needs to be tunable — it must have the ability to focus and be able to zoom in and out on an image. However, most optical systems in current use are made up of relatively bulky elements that can be challenging to produce, or they use tuning mechanisms that require a large volume of space to work. Researchers have been tackling these problems for a while now, but the lenses that have been produced so far often have issues with respect to power consumption, tuning speed, fabrication cost and production scalability. [caption id="attachment_20981" align="alignright" width="550"]Headshots of Zheyi Han, Shane Colburn, Arka Majumdar and Karl Böhringer The UW ECE research team, from left to right: graduate student Zheyi Han, recent graduate Shane Colburn, associate professor Arka Majumdar and professor Karl Böhringer[/caption] In a recent paper published in Nature Microsystems & Nanoengineering, a UW ECE research team describes a new type of micro-optical device that successfully addresses these challenges. The team was led by professor Karl Böhringer, director of the Institute for Nano-Engineered Systems, and associate professor Arka Majumdar, who is also an associate professor in the UW Department of Physics, as well as a member of NanoES and the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute. The research was funded by Böhringer and Majumdar’s startup, Tunoptix, and the team fabricated their lens prototype in the Washington Nanofabrication Facility, which is supported by the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure through the National Science Foundation. “We’ve built optical components that are small and compact, as well as fast and relatively easy to produce in mass fabrication processes,” Böhringer said. “Specifically, we’ve created a tunable lens, but the tuning is not happening in the conventional way that might come to mind, like what exists in a telescope or microscope.”

How the lens works

[caption id="attachment_20983" align="alignright" width="550"]image of the Alvarez lens Scanning electron microscope image of the MEMS-actuated platform carrying one of the two metasurface plates used in the lens. The metasurface plate shown is the square object at the center of the lens, flanked by the electrostatic comb drive on either side. The other metasurface plate is on a stationary substrate (not shown), which is overlaid on top of this platform.[/caption] In traditional optical systems, like what you might find in a telescope, microscope or binoculars, lenses are made out of clear glass or plastic elements and move closer to or further away from each other in order to focus or zoom in and out on an object. But the UW ECE team’s prototype works in an entirely different way. Instead of being glass or plastic, their lens is made out of silicon nitride, and it is shaped into thousands of comb-like nanostructures that flank two square plates coated with millions of microscopic 3D posts, called nanopillars. The square plates are considered “metasurfaces” because they are made out of an artificial sheet material constructed with sub-wavelength patterns. The plates transmit and diffract light, and they were fabricated in a unique process Majumdar developed in his lab. “These metasurfaces have an interesting property, in that if you design them properly, they can focus light,” Böhringer explained. “If you take these surfaces, place them in close proximity and move them relative to each other, you can actually create a lens with a tunable focal length.” The metasurfaces are extremely thin, almost two-dimensional, making the optical device only about two microns thick. For comparison, that is much thinner than the width of a human hair, which is approximately 70 microns thick. It is also thinner than the wavelength of infrared light, which the team used in their optics research. With metasurfaces, complex and bulky geometric lens curvatures can be converted into a space-saving, flat surface with a thickness measured in nanometers. And although this lens might seem difficult to build because it is intricate, complex and microscopic, the fabrication process uses already-existing semiconductor nanofabrication technologies. This means that the team’s lens can be scaled-up for low-cost, mass production. “This is a very different way of thinking about optics,” Majumdar said. “Each of the metasurfaces are not lenses on their own. They are completely different kinds of structures. But when you put them together and laterally displace them a little bit, you get a lens-like behavior.”

MEMS meets metasurface optics

[caption id="attachment_20985" align="alignright" width="550"]close-up of comb drive Scanning electron microscope image of the comb-like nanostructures that make up the electrostatic comb drive, which is part of the lens’ microelectromechanical system, or MEMS.[/caption] This type of optical lens is called an “Alvarez lens” because the physical principle it operates on was discovered by Luis Alvarez in the 1960s. What makes this Alvarez lens unique is that it uses metasurfaces that are activated and operated, or “actuated,” by a microelectromechanical system, or MEMS. “Our device is driven electrostatically. You’re applying a voltage, and the electrostatic field that you get between two different electrodes pulls the structures that make up the metasurfaces in a particular direction,” Böhringer explained. “If you use electrostatic actuation, it basically means there is no direct current flowing after the initial charge, and the power consumption is very low.” MEMS-actuation makes the lens capable of producing a change in focal length that is ten times larger than the actuated displacement of the plates that make up the metasurfaces. This translates to a wider tuning range than many of the comparable lenses on the market today. It is also very fast, with tuning speeds typically running under a millisecond. That is orders of magnitude faster than liquid tunable lenses, which are currently the industry standard and operate on a principle similar to the lenses in our eyes. “That’s really a major advantage compared to these liquid lenses, which have some inertia and some viscosity. They are much slower than these tiny structures that we built,” Majumdar said. “Another problem with liquid lenses is temperature instability. When you heat up a liquid, it expands more than a solid. A MEMS-actuated lens doesn’t have this temperature fluctuation problem as compared to liquid lenses.” The research team asserts that combining flat, super-thin metasurfaces together with the MEMS-driven Alvarez structure will allow for the ultimate miniaturization of optical devices with a tunable focal length, making their lens more mechanically and thermally robust than other engineering approaches, with key advantages such as fast tuning, compact size, light weight and low energy consumption.

What the future holds

[caption id="attachment_20986" align="alignright" width="550"]Close-up of nanopillars Scanning electron microscope image of the 3D nanopillars that cover the two metasurface plates that reside in the middle of the lens. The metasurfaces transmit and diffract light, and they were fabricated in a unique process Majumdar developed in his lab.[/caption] This research was conducted using infrared light. Next steps for the research team will be to scale-down the size of the nanopillars on the lens’ metasurfaces even further, in order to work with visible light, which has a shorter wavelength than infrared. This will increase the number of potential real-world applications for the technology. The team also wants to explore operating each of the nanopillars that reside on the lens’ metasurfaces independently. “These metasurfaces contain millions of light-scatterers, small, 3D nanopillars,” Majumdar said. “Currently, we are changing all of them at the same time, not moving them independently. But if you could start changing each of the elements separately, it would definitely change the way people think about optics and what is possible.” If the team were able to accomplish this next step, it would open up an entirely new line of research and new applications for the technology. “If this next step works, if we can really change millions of degrees of freedom in the lens’ nanopillars, then I can envision applications in deep tissue imaging,” Majumdar said. “You wouldn’t need to do X-ray imaging or MRIs in the traditional way. You could see everything inside your body with a cell phone camera. That’s the type of thing it would enable.” Operating each nanopillar independently would enable the lens to see through highly diffuse and dense materials (such as your body) in a manner somewhat similar to how a vehicle’s fog lights help to illuminate a cloudy night. “It’s also good to point out that there would be nothing outrageously expensive about that. It’s not a device that in the end would cost millions of dollars,” Böhringer added. “Of course, there is still a lot of research to be done to get something like that to work, but eventually, I think this could be something that’s in every household or maybe in every phone.” The ways in which the team’s MEMS-actuated metasurface Alvarez lens could evolve are admittedly a bit uncertain for now, but one thing is for sure — the lens this team has developed is desirable for a wide range of imaging and display applications today. In the future, it could help us see the world through tiny cameras like never before. [post_title] => A new kind of lens for tiny cameras [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => a-new-kind-of-lens [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-25 11:34:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-25 19:34:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20978 [menu_order] => 1 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20954 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2021-01-21 12:11:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-21 20:11:47 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_20955" align="alignright" width="620"]headshot of Denise Wilson on an abstract background IEEE Region 6, which represents the western half of the United States, named UW ECE professor Denise Wilson as recipient of their 2020 Outstanding Engineering Educator Award. The award recognizes Wilson as an outstanding educator, facilitator and mentor, and it notes her excellence in adaptation and resilience to a broad range of learning environments, including remote learning. Photo illustration by Chandler Simon[/caption] The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is one of the largest and most respected professional associations for electrical and electronic engineering in the world, with more than 423,000 members in over 160 countries. Recently, IEEE Region 6, which represents the western half of the United States, named professor Denise Wilson as recipient of their 2020 Outstanding Engineering Educator Award. The award recognizes Wilson as an outstanding educator, facilitator and mentor, and it notes her excellence in adaptation and resilience to a broad range of learning environments, including remote learning. Wilson has taught in the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering for over 20 years. She is a respected researcher and educator, an influential faculty mentor, and one of only a handful of individuals at the University who has investigated improving the process of engineering education itself through rigorous study and research. “I’m really grateful for this award because it gives me extra energy to pour back into my students,” Wilson said. “It allows me to go back into teaching with greater enthusiasm and affirms my interest in understanding how students learn and how to best support them.”

A respected researcher and educator

Wilson’s research interests extend from engineering education to studying women in the engineering workplace, to her technical research in sensors and photovoltaic systems. She is the author of two books and numerous publications. She is also managing director of Coming Alongside, an environmental services non-profit invested in translating current science into understandable and actionable language for all people. The organization seeks to minimize negative impacts of human activity on the environment and public health.
“Denise’s passion for teaching and mentoring extends well beyond the traditional classroom to study-abroad, K–12, her local community and almost every area of her life. She knows how to bring the best out of her students and colleagues, and for that alone, her impact will be everlasting.” — UW ECE assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein
Some of her notable work in engineering education includes “Mapping the Roads to Greater Engagement,” a study she led in 2015–2019, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. The project examined various factors that support and influence the ability of students to engage in classroom learning, including the roles of faculty, teaching assistants and peers in creating a supportive environment. “When you do research on a regular basis, you see teaching in a different way,” Wilson said. “The very set of skills that we use in the process of doing research — formulating problems, hypotheses and questions — provides us with a unique opportunity to use that practice in the classroom in a manner that doesn’t have everyone teaching the same way, but produces teachers in the classroom that work with and maximize the strengths they bring to the table.”

An outstanding faculty mentor

Wilson is passionately dedicated to providing engineering faculty, both through formal peer teaching review and through more informal mentoring, a pathway by which they can become the best and most unique teacher that their personal style and philosophy enables. Among her colleagues at the UW, educators at conferences she attends, and across her professional network, she seeks to support faculty, understand how individuals are strong, and help them set achievable, realistic goals with those strengths in mind. “When Denise speaks about engineering education research, I take notes,” said UW ECE assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein, who nominated Wilson for the award. “She has been coaching me to complement my years of teaching experience with scholarship to take my career to a new level.”

Supporting students through COVID-19 and beyond

Finding new and better ways to support students and improve the quality of their educational experience is a top priority for Wilson. She has been leading efforts at UW ECE to improve engineering education and remote learning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “During the COVID-19 crisis, Denise went above and beyond the call of duty to support her students and me personally in different ways,” Hussein said. “This prompted the award nomination, among many other reasons.” Last spring, Wilson led an initiative in the College of Engineering to research how COVID-19 was impacting engineering students at the UW and what types of support they most needed heading into the fall. Based on what she learned from the study and her own teaching experience, she held a workshop for UW ECE faculty and staff to help guide their approach to remote learning. Going forward, she will offer an expanded session on this topic at the American Society for Engineering Education conference in July 2021. She is also in the process of more broadly distributing best practices from her spring quarter research to engineering programs across the country. “Denise’s passion for teaching and mentoring extends well beyond the traditional classroom to study-abroad, K–12, her local community and almost every area of her life,” Hussein wrote in Wilson’s award nomination. “She knows how to bring the best out of her students and colleagues, and for that alone, her impact will be everlasting.” [post_title] => Professor Denise Wilson receives IEEE Region 6 Outstanding Engineering Educator award [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ieee6-wilson-award [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-21 13:04:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-21 21:04:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20954 [menu_order] => 2 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20844 [post_author] => 26 [post_date] => 2021-01-14 08:40:34 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-14 16:40:34 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam, UW ECE News  |  Photos and captions by Paula Bock, Mobilizing Myanmar [caption id="attachment_20886" align="alignleft" width="587"] Pwint Htun (’97), co-founder, Mobilizing Myanmar[/caption] Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia sandwiched between Bangladesh, India, China and Thailand, is one of the least developed nations on earth. It has poorly maintained roads and a weak electrical grid that is inaccessible to most people in rural areas. So, it can come as quite a surprise to learn that despite its lack of development, almost everyone in this country owns or has easy access to a low-cost, fast and reliable smartphone. This is in large part thanks to Pwint Htun, a former refugee from Myanmar who received her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from UW ECE (then UW EE) in 1997. After graduation, Htun went on to a successful telecommunications career, working for companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Clearwire and T-Mobile, where she was part of a team that contributed to development of the first Android smartphone. Over the past eight years, she has focused her formidable talents and energy on solving a complex and difficult problem in her native country of Myanmar — how to connect the large, rural population to the rest of the world in order to empower people economically and ensure they don’t get left behind. “In my four years at the UW, there was a lot of focus on problem-solving, learning to ask the right questions to solve problems, and that is what has been really helpful for me,” Htun said. “The problems that I solve now are different than they were before, but it’s still the same methodology — tackling what may seem like a big problem and then chunking it into small pieces, figuring out ‘who, what, when, how,’ and then making small progress to achieve the larger goal.”
“The most important thing to know about technology is that it is a great tool, and a great enabler to reduce inequalities.” — Pwint Htun
By working closely with Myanmar’s Ministry of Communications and Central Bank, and partners such as the Gates Foundation, Htun led an effort to make smartphone connectivity and financial services more accessible and affordable for everyone in the nation. She has made major strides in digitally connecting the country over the last eight years, drafting regulations for the mobile financial services industry and significantly improving Myanmar’s telecommunications landscape. Eight years ago, Myanmar was the third least-connected country on the planet. Today, Myanmar has a smartphone penetration rate of 114%, which means there are more smartphones than people in the country. This is a higher mobile penetration rate than in either the U.S. or Germany, and the phones are speedy — over 94% of the population has 3G or 4G coverage. Also, over 64,000 mobile financial service providers across the country called “mobile money agents” — individuals who own small shops in cities, towns and villages across Myanmar and function like human ATMs  — help to provide digital financial services to their communities. The country has seen digital financial transactions increase approximately 800% in the last year. “The most important thing to know about technology is that it is a great tool, and a great enabler to reduce inequalities,” Htun said. “If we choose to focus on altruistic uses of the technology, there is a huge potential to bring about change.” [caption id="attachment_20883" align="alignright" width="524"] In a rural village in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta, Pwint Htun teaches midwives to download apps, part of a multisector project to improve nutrition for pregnant women in a region with the nation’s highest connectivity — and also the highest rate of child stunting.[/caption]

Benefits and unexpected impacts of smartphones

Ease of access to smartphones and digital financial services are bringing sweeping changes and far-reaching benefits to the people of Myanmar, especially the rural population. Digital technology has made economic opportunities within the country more accessible to those in rural areas, and it enables people to connect with friends and family both inside and outside the country anywhere, anytime. The ability to send and receive money electronically helps to create a financial safety net for people in Myanmar as well, enabling those in urban areas to send money to loved ones in rural villages and vice versa. Access to digital financial services also reduces the need to carry large amounts of cash, which has enhanced physical safety for many people, such as women and migrant workers who are more vulnerable to physical attacks and robbery. “In Myanmar, there are many domestic migrant workers, as well as international migrant workers,” Htun said. “If you’re a migrant worker, you don’t have access to a bank account, because banks are only open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You’re going to be at work then, and your salary is paid out in cash. So, what do you do? You just carry the money on your body.” With easily accessible mobile money agents all across the country, people can now digitize their cash at almost any time of day, and even receive digital payments instead of cash, which helps to provide some much-needed financial security. The government is also working on digitizing its payments to citizens, which will help to further enhance this social safety net.
“In the future, it’s not going to be the developed world versus the developing world, it’s going to be the digitized world versus the unconnected world. I hope that people in Myanmar become fully a part of the digitized world. They have the perfect ingredients, they just need to take that next step.” — Pwint Htun
Htun is also focused on fostering economic empowerment for women, who have been shown in many societies, including Myanmar, to spread wealth throughout communities more rapidly and effectively than men. This has a stabilizing effect on the culture at-large. According to studies cited by Htun, this is because women spend, on average, 90 percent of their earned income on their families — food, education and health care — while men spend only 30–40 percent of their income on family and the community. [caption id="attachment_20885" align="alignleft" width="450"] In rural Shan state, a strawberry farmer uses Facebook Messenger to inform a buyer of how much produce she shipped to him; he pays her digitally. Because she had to quit school in the fourth grade, the farmer wants her daughters to get a good education. Her oldest daughter, who attends a distance-learning college, taught her mom to use mobile money.[/caption] “It’s a very big, ambitious goal to tackle — to shift more resources into women’s hands,” Htun said. “When we considered women in Myanmar’s rural areas, we realized that the best way to get them to become more economically empowered is to get them to become more digitally literate, digitally savvy, so that the phone that is already in their hands can become a tool for them to earn more income.” There have been a couple other significant benefits of this technology that were unexpected and unplanned by either Htun or the Myanmar government. One was nudged into existence in large part by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has had the effect of putting Myanmar’s move toward smartphones and digital financial services on fast-forward. “COVID-19 has accelerated digital adoption around the country. What we told people was possible, COVID-19 is forcing them to do. For example, if you’re a blind person in Myanmar, usually the only type of paid work available to you is working as a massage therapist. COVID-19 shut these businesses down, and there is no unemployment system in Myanmar,” Htun explained. “But I taught three blind people how to use mobile money, and it has spread like wildfire. They have taught each other, and hundreds of blind people in Myanmar now have opened a digital wallet, which allows them to receive money from friends, family and those who want to help. So, it’s really benefiting the blind population.” The other unexpected benefit has been a rapid adoption of solar power. “The majority of people in Myanmar don’t have access to grid electricity. As of this year, only 50% of the population has access. But what has happened is that people want to be connected to their loved ones, so they buy smartphones,” Htun said. “They have to figure out a way to charge the phones off the grid, so many people end up investing in inexpensive solar panels. It’s the positive externality of telecommunication liberalization in Myanmar, where people in their desire to connect digitally decide that they need to have access to solar panels and prioritized that.” [caption id="attachment_20882" align="alignright" width="420"] Htun instructs trainers from grassroots women’s organizations who will then teach digital literacy and livelihood skills to other village women. This sustainable approach empowers women to continue learning from each other as technology evolves.[/caption]

Teaching digital literacy and moving into a connected world

Of course, not every unexpected impact from Myanmar’s leap into digital technology has been positive. Like many other societies around the world, the country has suffered from the spread of disinformation, which proliferates more rapidly online. Fake news (such as a popular rumor in Myanmar that onions can cure COVID-19) and hate groups can also be empowered by technology, so Htun is actively working to implement digital literacy education. “Technology is a tool, and like any other tool, it is a double-edged sword,” Htun said. “The most important thing is to teach people positive ways of using technology, so it can overwhelm negative uses of technology. I work a lot on digital literacy for that reason.” Next steps for Htun include continuing to expand Myanmar’s network of female mobile money agents, implementing quick-response (QR) codes across the country to ensure accessibility, ease and speed of financial transactions, and encouraging the government to digitize all payments and bureaucratic, paperwork-driven processes to reduce friction, corruption and better serve the people of Myanmar. “In the future, it’s not going to be the developed world versus the developing world, it’s going to be the digitized world versus the unconnected world. I hope that people in Myanmar become fully a part of the digitized world. They have the perfect ingredients, they just need to take that next step.”   [caption id="attachment_20884" align="alignleft" width="508"] Life in remote northern Chin state is like stepping back a century in time — except for the smartphone in the toddler hands of the next generation. In a nation where 38 percent of the population lives below the global poverty line, mobile money can transform society as women safely earn and save money, network with each other, escape poverty and gain power.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20881" align="alignright" width="540"] After using her digital wallet to get cash from a mobile money agent at a roadside stall, this grandma wheels around on the dusty roads of northern Shan State, phone in hand. Because Myanmar has extensive network coverage and pervasive smartphone usage (even among the poor), it’s an ideal place to test innovations and demonstrate how unbanked women can empower themselves using digital tools.[/caption] [post_title] => Using smartphone technology to build an inclusive and more equitable society in Myanmar [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => pwint-htun [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-14 08:40:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-14 16:40:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20844 [menu_order] => 4 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20841 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2021-01-12 11:31:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-12 19:31:10 [post_content] => Story by Sarah McQuate | UW News Almost 18,000 Americans experience traumatic spinal cord injuries every year. Many of these people are unable to use their hands and arms and can’t do everyday tasks such as eating, grooming or drinking water without help. Using physical therapy combined with a noninvasive method of stimulating nerve cells in the spinal cord, University of Washington researchers helped six Seattle area participants regain some hand and arm mobility. That increased mobility lasted at least three to six months after treatment had ended. The research team published these findings Jan. 5 in the journal IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering. [caption id="attachment_20892" align="alignright" width="600"]female researcher applies spinal stimulation pads to the back of study participant's neck Fatma Inanici applies small patches that will deliver electrical currents to the injured area on a participant’s neck. Note: This photo was taken in 2018. Marcus Donner/Center for Neurotechnology[/caption] “We use our hands for everything — eating, brushing our teeth, buttoning a shirt. Spinal cord injury patients rate regaining hand function as the absolute first priority for treatment. It is five to six times more important than anything else that they ask for help on,” said lead author Dr. Fatma Inanici, a UW senior postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering who completed this research as a doctoral student of rehabilitation medicine in the UW School of Medicine. “At the beginning of our study,” Inanici said, “I didn’t expect such an immediate response starting from the very first stimulation session. As a rehabilitation physician, my experience was that there was always a limit to how much people would recover. But now it looks like that’s changing. It’s so rewarding to see these results.” After a spinal cord injury, many patients do physical therapy to help them attempt to regain mobility. Recently, a series of studies have shown that implanting a stimulator to deliver electric current to a damaged spinal cord could help paralyzed patients walk again. [caption id="attachment_20894" align="alignleft" width="600"]photo of hand picking up a small bead Participants progressed to more difficult versions of the training exercises (for example, going from picking up a ping pong ball to picking up a tiny bead, shown here) as they improved. Note: This photo was taken in 2019. Marcus Donner/Center for Neurotechnology[/caption] The UW team, composed of researchers from the Center for Neurotechnology, combined stimulation with standard physical therapy exercises, but the stimulation doesn’t require surgery. Instead, it involves small patches that stick to a participant’s skin like a Band-Aid. These patches are placed around the injured area on the back of the neck where they deliver electrical pulses. The researchers recruited six people with chronic spinal cord injuries. All participants had been injured for at least a year and a half. Some participants couldn’t wiggle their fingers or thumbs while others had some mobility at the beginning of the study. To explore the viability of using the skin-surface stimulation method, the researchers designed a five-month training program. For the first month, the researchers monitored participants’ baseline limb movements each week. Then for the second month, the team put participants through intensive physical therapy training, three times a week for two hours at a time. For the third month, participants continued physical therapy training but with stimulation added. “We turned on the device, but they continued doing the exact same exercises they did the previous month, progressing to slightly more difficult versions if they improved,” Inanici said. For the last two months of the study, participants were divided into two categories: Participants with less severe injuries received another month of training alone and then a month of training plus stimulation. Patients with more severe injuries received the opposite — training and stimulation first, followed by only training second. [caption id="attachment_20898" align="alignleft" width="800"]Graphic showing frequency of electrical stimulation for study participants The researchers designed a five-month training program that included month-long regimens of training alone or training with stimulation.Inanici et. al, IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering[/caption] While some participants regained some hand function during training alone, all six saw improvements when stimulation was combined with training. “Both people who had no hand movement at the beginning of the study started moving their hands again during stimulation, and were able to produce a measurable force between their fingers and thumb,” said senior author Chet Moritz, a UW associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, rehabilitation medicine and physiology and biophysics. “That’s a dramatic change, to go from being completely paralyzed below the wrists down to moving your hands at will.” In addition, some participants noticed other improvements, including a more normal heart rate and better regulation of body temperature and bladder function. The team followed up with participants for up to six months after training and found that these improvements remained, despite no more stimulation. “We think these stimulators bring the nerves that make your muscles contract very close to being active. They don’t actually cause the muscle to move, but they get it ready to move. It’s primed, like the sprinter at the start of a race,” said Moritz, who is also the co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology. “Then when someone with a spinal cord injury wants to move, the few connections that might have been spared around the injury are enough to cause those muscles to contract.” [caption id="attachment_20896" align="alignright" width="600"]CNT researchers Chet Moritz and Dr. Fatma Inanici work with study participant on grip strength Chet Moritz (left) and Fatma Inanici (center) observe as a participant (right) measures grip strength (by squeezing the device in his hand). The participant has sensors on his arms (black cases) to measure his arm muscle activity during the task. Note: This photo was taken in 2019. Marcus Donner/Center for Neurotechnology[/caption] The research is moving toward helping people in the clinic. The results of this study have already informed the design of an international multi-site clinical trial that will be co-led by Moritz. One of the lead sites will be at the UW. “We’re seeing a common theme across universities — stimulating the spinal cord electrically is making people better,” Moritz said. “But it does take motivation. The stimulator helps you do the exercises, and the exercises help you get stronger, but the improvements are incremental. Over time, however, they add up into something that’s really astounding.” Lorie Brighton, a research scientist at the UW; Soshi Samejima, a UW doctoral student in rehabilitation medicine; and Dr. Christoph Hofstetter, an associate professor of neurological surgery in the UW School of Medicine, are co-authors on this paper. This research was funded by the Center for Neurotechnology, the Washington State Spinal Cord Injury Consortium and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. For more information, contact Inanici at finanici@uw.edu and Moritz at ctmoritz@uw.edu. Grant number: EEC-1028725 [post_title] => New treatment allows some people with spinal cord injury to regain hand and arm function [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => spinal-stimulation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-12 11:31:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-12 19:31:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20841 [menu_order] => 5 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20815 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2021-01-06 10:39:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-06 18:39:28 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_20847" align="alignright" width="595"] A UW ECE research team led by associate professor Mo Li, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Maryland, has developed an optical computing system that could contribute toward speeding up AI and machine learning — and thus the performance of our favorite software applications — while reducing associated energy and environmental costs. The team is also among the first in the world to use phase-change material in optical computing to enable image recognition by an artificial neural network, a benchmark test of a neural network’s computing speed and precision. (Illustration by Ryan Hoover)[/caption] Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are already an integral part of our everyday lives online, although many people may not yet realize that fact. For example, search engines such as Google are facilitated by intelligent ranking algorithms, video streaming services such as Netflix use machine learning to personalize movie recommendations, and cloud computing data centers use AI and machine learning to facilitate a wide array of services. The demands for AI are many, varied and complex. As those demands continue to grow, so does the need to speed up AI performance and find ways to reduce its energy consumption. On a large scale, energy costs associated with AI and machine learning can be staggering. For example, cloud computing data centers currently use an estimated 200 terawatt hours per year — more than a small country — and that energy consumption is forecasted to grow exponentially in coming years with serious environmental consequences. Now, a research team led by associate professor Mo Li at the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Maryland, has come up with a system that could contribute toward speeding up AI while reducing associated energy and environmental costs. In a paper published January 4, 2021, in Nature Communications the team described an optical computing core prototype that uses phase-change material (a substance similar to what CD-ROMs and DVDs use to record information). Their system is fast, energy efficient and capable of accelerating neural networks used in AI and machine learning. The technology is also scalable and directly applicable to cloud computing, which uses AI and machine learning to drive popular software applications people use everyday, such as search engines, streaming video, and a multitude of apps for phones, desktop computers and other devices. [caption id="attachment_20823" align="alignleft" width="450"]Mo Li and Changming Wu headshots UW ECE associate professor Mo Li (left) and UW ECE graduate student Changming Wu (right) led the research team that built the optical computing system prototype. Their system uses phase-change material (a substance similar to what CD-ROMs and DVDs use to record information) to facilitate AI computing speed and energy efficiency.[/caption] “The hardware we developed is optimized to run algorithms of an artificial neural network, which is really a backbone algorithm for AI and machine learning,” Li said. “This research advance will make AI centers and cloud computing more energy efficient and run much faster.” The team is among the first in the world to use phase-change material in optical computing to enable image recognition by an artificial neural network. Recognizing an image in a photo is something that is easy for humans to do, but it is computationally demanding for AI. Because image recognition is computation-heavy, it is considered a benchmark test of a neural network’s computing speed and precision. The team demonstrated that their optical computing core, running an artificial neural network, could easily pass this test. “Optical computing first appeared as a concept in the 1980s, but then it faded in the shadow of microelectronics,” said lead author Changming Wu, who is an electrical and computer engineering graduate student working in Li’s lab. “Now, because of the end of Moore’s law [the observation that the number of transistors in a dense, integrated circuit doubles about every two years], advances in integrated photonics, and the demands of AI computing, it has been revamped. That’s very exciting.”

Speeding up hardware and software performance

Optical computing is fast because it uses light generated by lasers — instead of the much slower electricity used in traditional digital electronics — to transmit information at mind-boggling speeds. The prototype the research team developed was designed to accelerate computational speed of an artificial neural network, and that computing speed is measured in billions and trillions of operations per second. According to Li, future iterations of their device hold the potential to go even faster. “This is an early prototype, and we are not using the highest speed possible with optics yet,” Li said. “Future generations show the promise of going at least an order of magnitude faster.” In the eventual real-world application of this technology, that means any software powered by optical computing through the cloud — such as search engines, video streaming and cloud-enabled devices — would run faster as well, improving performance.

Increased energy efficiency

Li’s research team took their prototype one step further by using phase-change material to store data and perform computing operations by detecting the light transmitted through the material. Unlike transistors used in digital electronics that require a steady voltage to represent and hold the zeros and ones used in binary computing, phase-change material doesn’t require any energy at all to hold this information. Just like in a CD or DVD, when phase-change material is heated precisely by lasers it switches between a crystalline and an amorphous state. The material then holds that state or “phase,” along with the information the phase represents (a zero or one), until it is heated again by the laser. “There are other competing schemes to construct optical neural networks, but we think using phase-changing material has a unique advantage in terms of energy efficiency because the data is encoding in a non-volatile way, meaning that the device, using phase-changing material, does not consume a constant amount of power to store the data,” Li explained. “Once the data is written there, it’s always there. You don’t have to supply power to keep it in place.” This energy-savings matters, in that when it is multiplied by millions of computer servers at thousands of data centers around the world, the reduction in energy consumption and environmental impact will be significant.

Optimizing and scaling up for the real world

The team further enhanced the phase-change material used in their optical computing core by patterning the material into nanostructures. These microscopic constructions improve the material’s endurance and stability, it’s contrast (the ability to distinguish between zero and one in binary code), and enable greater computational capacity and precision. Li’s research team also fully integrated phase-change material into the prototype’s optical computing core. “Here, we are doing everything we can to integrate optics,” Wu said. “We put the phase-change material on top of a waveguide, which is a tiny little wire we carve on the silicon chip that guides light. You can think of it as an electrical wire for light, or as an optical fiber carved on the chip.” Li’s research team asserts that the method they developed is one of the most scalable approaches to optical computing technologies currently available, eventually applicable to large systems such as networked cloud computing servers at data centers around the world. “Our design architecture is scalable to a much, much larger network that can handle challenging artificial intelligence tasks ranging from large, high-resolution image recognition to video processing and video image recognition,” Li said. “Our scheme is the most promising one, we believe, that’s scalable to that level. Of course, that will take industrial-scale semiconductor manufacturing. Our scheme and the material that makes up the prototype are all very compatible with semiconductor foundry processes.”

The future is light

Looking forward, Li said he could envision optical computing devices, such as the one his team developed, providing a further boost to the computational performance of current technology and enabling the next generation of artificial intelligence. To move in that direction, the next steps for his research team will be to scale up the prototype they built by working closely with UW ECE associate professor Arka Majumdar and assistant professor Sajjad Moazeni, experts in large-scale integrated photonics and microelectronics. And after the technology is scaled up sufficiently, it will lend itself to future integration with energy-hungry data centers, speeding up the performance of software applications facilitated by cloud computing and driving down energy demands. “Nowadays in data centers, the computers are already connected by optical fibers. This provides the ultra-high bandwidth communication that is really needed,” Li said. “So, it’s logical to perform optical computing in such a setting because fiber optics infrastructure is already done. It’s exciting, and I think the time is about right for optical computing to emerge again.” The research described in this article is supported by the Office of Naval Research through a Department of Defense Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program. [post_title] => Accelerating AI computing to the speed of light [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ai-computing [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-07 13:15:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-07 21:15:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20815 [menu_order] => 6 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20769 [post_author] => 26 [post_date] => 2020-12-30 11:26:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-12-30 19:26:10 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_20760" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Dr. Rania Hussein with the remote FPGA lab. Photo: Ryan Hoover | UW ECE[/caption]   UW ECE assistant teaching professor Rania Hussein collaborated with educators at four universities — University of Michigan, Monash University in Malaysia, The Public University of Navarre UPNA in Spain and the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil — to create a distributed remote FPGA lab. Students can remotely access real hardware located at any of the participating universities. Professor Hussein piloted this project in her EE/CSE 371 “Design of Digital Circuits & Systems” course last fall. Instead of shipping lab kits to the 60 students enrolled in her course, she had students use the remote lab to access hardware on campus as well as at the other universities. Read the full UW College of Engineering story here.   [caption id="attachment_20779" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] 4 FPGA boards out of 8 connected to the distributed remote lab. Photo: Ryan Hoover | UW ECE[/caption]   [post_title] => A Distributed Remote FPGA lab at UW ECE [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => leveraging-this-moment [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-12-31 11:12:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-12-31 19:12:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20769 [menu_order] => 7 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 6 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20978 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2021-01-25 11:34:27 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-25 19:34:27 [post_content] => Story by Wayne Gillam | UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_20979" align="alignright" width="550"]Illustration of comb drive Polarized light microscopy captured this colorful image of an electrostatic comb drive contained within the lens developed by the UW ECE research team. One thing that makes the team’s lens unique is that it uses metasurfaces — thin, fabricated plates that transmit and diffract light — activated and operated, or “actuated,” by this microelectromechanical system, or MEMS.[/caption] Most of us use the cameras in our cellphones and laptop computers every day. However, many people don’t realize that miniature lenses are crucial for these devices to operate. As the size of digital electronics and other technologies continues to shrink, the demand for smaller, more efficient optical components is growing. Small cameras are useful tools for many applications, such as robotics and surveillance, aerospace, and biomedical systems. Most tiny cameras, as well as the devices they inhabit, would benefit from even smaller, more reliable and cost-effective lenses, but crafting lenses that are smaller than what exists in the market today is a challenge for engineers. To be useful in most applications, a camera lens needs to be tunable — it must have the ability to focus and be able to zoom in and out on an image. However, most optical systems in current use are made up of relatively bulky elements that can be challenging to produce, or they use tuning mechanisms that require a large volume of space to work. Researchers have been tackling these problems for a while now, but the lenses that have been produced so far often have issues with respect to power consumption, tuning speed, fabrication cost and production scalability. [caption id="attachment_20981" align="alignright" width="550"]Headshots of Zheyi Han, Shane Colburn, Arka Majumdar and Karl Böhringer The UW ECE research team, from left to right: graduate student Zheyi Han, recent graduate Shane Colburn, associate professor Arka Majumdar and professor Karl Böhringer[/caption] In a recent paper published in Nature Microsystems & Nanoengineering, a UW ECE research team describes a new type of micro-optical device that successfully addresses these challenges. The team was led by professor Karl Böhringer, director of the Institute for Nano-Engineered Systems, and associate professor Arka Majumdar, who is also an associate professor in the UW Department of Physics, as well as a member of NanoES and the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute. The research was funded by Böhringer and Majumdar’s startup, Tunoptix, and the team fabricated their lens prototype in the Washington Nanofabrication Facility, which is supported by the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure through the National Science Foundation. “We’ve built optical components that are small and compact, as well as fast and relatively easy to produce in mass fabrication processes,” Böhringer said. “Specifically, we’ve created a tunable lens, but the tuning is not happening in the conventional way that might come to mind, like what exists in a telescope or microscope.”

How the lens works

[caption id="attachment_20983" align="alignright" width="550"]image of the Alvarez lens Scanning electron microscope image of the MEMS-actuated platform carrying one of the two metasurface plates used in the lens. The metasurface plate shown is the square object at the center of the lens, flanked by the electrostatic comb drive on either side. The other metasurface plate is on a stationary substrate (not shown), which is overlaid on top of this platform.[/caption] In traditional optical systems, like what you might find in a telescope, microscope or binoculars, lenses are made out of clear glass or plastic elements and move closer to or further away from each other in order to focus or zoom in and out on an object. But the UW ECE team’s prototype works in an entirely different way. Instead of being glass or plastic, their lens is made out of silicon nitride, and it is shaped into thousands of comb-like nanostructures that flank two square plates coated with millions of microscopic 3D posts, called nanopillars. The square plates are considered “metasurfaces” because they are made out of an artificial sheet material constructed with sub-wavelength patterns. The plates transmit and diffract light, and they were fabricated in a unique process Majumdar developed in his lab. “These metasurfaces have an interesting property, in that if you design them properly, they can focus light,” Böhringer explained. “If you take these surfaces, place them in close proximity and move them relative to each other, you can actually create a lens with a tunable focal length.” The metasurfaces are extremely thin, almost two-dimensional, making the optical device only about two microns thick. For comparison, that is much thinner than the width of a human hair, which is approximately 70 microns thick. It is also thinner than the wavelength of infrared light, which the team used in their optics research. With metasurfaces, complex and bulky geometric lens curvatures can be converted into a space-saving, flat surface with a thickness measured in nanometers. And although this lens might seem difficult to build because it is intricate, complex and microscopic, the fabrication process uses already-existing semiconductor nanofabrication technologies. This means that the team’s lens can be scaled-up for low-cost, mass production. “This is a very different way of thinking about optics,” Majumdar said. “Each of the metasurfaces are not lenses on their own. They are completely different kinds of structures. But when you put them together and laterally displace them a little bit, you get a lens-like behavior.”

MEMS meets metasurface optics

[caption id="attachment_20985" align="alignright" width="550"]close-up of comb drive Scanning electron microscope image of the comb-like nanostructures that make up the electrostatic comb drive, which is part of the lens’ microelectromechanical system, or MEMS.[/caption] This type of optical lens is called an “Alvarez lens” because the physical principle it operates on was discovered by Luis Alvarez in the 1960s. What makes this Alvarez lens unique is that it uses metasurfaces that are activated and operated, or “actuated,” by a microelectromechanical system, or MEMS. “Our device is driven electrostatically. You’re applying a voltage, and the electrostatic field that you get between two different electrodes pulls the structures that make up the metasurfaces in a particular direction,” Böhringer explained. “If you use electrostatic actuation, it basically means there is no direct current flowing after the initial charge, and the power consumption is very low.” MEMS-actuation makes the lens capable of producing a change in focal length that is ten times larger than the actuated displacement of the plates that make up the metasurfaces. This translates to a wider tuning range than many of the comparable lenses on the market today. It is also very fast, with tuning speeds typically running under a millisecond. That is orders of magnitude faster than liquid tunable lenses, which are currently the industry standard and operate on a principle similar to the lenses in our eyes. “That’s really a major advantage compared to these liquid lenses, which have some inertia and some viscosity. They are much slower than these tiny structures that we built,” Majumdar said. “Another problem with liquid lenses is temperature instability. When you heat up a liquid, it expands more than a solid. A MEMS-actuated lens doesn’t have this temperature fluctuation problem as compared to liquid lenses.” The research team asserts that combining flat, super-thin metasurfaces together with the MEMS-driven Alvarez structure will allow for the ultimate miniaturization of optical devices with a tunable focal length, making their lens more mechanically and thermally robust than other engineering approaches, with key advantages such as fast tuning, compact size, light weight and low energy consumption.

What the future holds

[caption id="attachment_20986" align="alignright" width="550"]Close-up of nanopillars Scanning electron microscope image of the 3D nanopillars that cover the two metasurface plates that reside in the middle of the lens. The metasurfaces transmit and diffract light, and they were fabricated in a unique process Majumdar developed in his lab.[/caption] This research was conducted using infrared light. Next steps for the research team will be to scale-down the size of the nanopillars on the lens’ metasurfaces even further, in order to work with visible light, which has a shorter wavelength than infrared. This will increase the number of potential real-world applications for the technology. The team also wants to explore operating each of the nanopillars that reside on the lens’ metasurfaces independently. “These metasurfaces contain millions of light-scatterers, small, 3D nanopillars,” Majumdar said. “Currently, we are changing all of them at the same time, not moving them independently. But if you could start changing each of the elements separately, it would definitely change the way people think about optics and what is possible.” If the team were able to accomplish this next step, it would open up an entirely new line of research and new applications for the technology. “If this next step works, if we can really change millions of degrees of freedom in the lens’ nanopillars, then I can envision applications in deep tissue imaging,” Majumdar said. “You wouldn’t need to do X-ray imaging or MRIs in the traditional way. You could see everything inside your body with a cell phone camera. That’s the type of thing it would enable.” Operating each nanopillar independently would enable the lens to see through highly diffuse and dense materials (such as your body) in a manner somewhat similar to how a vehicle’s fog lights help to illuminate a cloudy night. “It’s also good to point out that there would be nothing outrageously expensive about that. It’s not a device that in the end would cost millions of dollars,” Böhringer added. “Of course, there is still a lot of research to be done to get something like that to work, but eventually, I think this could be something that’s in every household or maybe in every phone.” The ways in which the team’s MEMS-actuated metasurface Alvarez lens could evolve are admittedly a bit uncertain for now, but one thing is for sure — the lens this team has developed is desirable for a wide range of imaging and display applications today. In the future, it could help us see the world through tiny cameras like never before. [post_title] => A new kind of lens for tiny cameras [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => a-new-kind-of-lens [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-25 11:34:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-25 19:34:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=20978 [menu_order] => 1 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 741 [max_num_pages] => 124 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => 1 [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => [is_tag] => [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => 1 [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => c64914061c8ecf9b16abe746203f6ad7 [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => 1 [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) ) )
More News
More News Electrical Engineering Kaleidoscope Electrical Engineering eNews