The Rensselaer community is invited to attend the announcement of the winner of the second-ever $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 2 p.m., in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies auditorium. The winner will make Rensselaer history and join last year’s winner, doctoral student Brian Schulkin, who was recently named one of Scientific American’s top 50 scientists in the world.
The award is given to a Rensselaer senior or graduate student who has created or improved a product or process, applied a technology in a new way, or otherwise demonstrated remarkable inventiveness. The winner will be chosen by a distinguished panel of scientists, technologists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
The $30,000 award is given to a Rensselaer senior or graduate student who has created or improved a product or process, applied a technology in a new way, or otherwise demonstrated remarkable inventiveness.
The Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize is funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program, which has awarded the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize to outstanding student inventors at MIT since 1995. This year the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also joins Rensselaer as a new partner institution with the announcement of the Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize.
Four extremely talented young engineers and scientists are in the running for this year’s prestigious award. They represent the best of Rensselaer and will likely go on to truly change the world. Read more about them:
Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering
Weixiao Huang’s transistor has already captured the attention of some of the world’s biggest automobile companies and could replace one of the most common pieces of technology in the world the silicon transistor.
The new transistor uses a compound material known as gallium nitride (GaN). The new GaN transistor could reduce the power consumption and improve the efficiency of power electronics systems in everything from motor drives and hybrid vehicles to house appliances and defense equipment, and create a global reduction in fossil fuel consumption and pollution.
Each household likely contains dozens of silicon-based electronics. An important component of each of those electronics is usually a silicon-based transistor know as a silicon metal/oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (silicon MOSFET). To convert the electric energy, the transistor acts as a switch, allowing or disallowing the flow of current through the device.
Engineers have known that GaN and other gallium-based materials have some extremely good electrical properties. However, until Huang’s innovation, no useful GaN MOS transistor has been developed. Huang’s innovation, the first GaN MOSFET of its kind in the world, has already shown world-record performances. His innovation can integrate several important electronic functions onto one chip. The new GaN transistors can also allow the electronics system to operate in extremely hot, harsh, and high-power environments and even those that produce radiation.
Huang, who has published more than 15 papers, comes from humble roots as the son of farmers in rural China. He received a bachelor’s degree in electronics from Peking University in Beijing in 2001 and a master’s in physics from Rensselaer in 2002. He expects to complete his doctorate this spring.
Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy
Paul Morrow has developed two innovations that could revolutionize magnetic data storage and sensing technology.
First, Morrow developed a nanomaterial that has never before been produced. The nanomaterial is an array of nanoscale columns composed of alternating layers of magnetic cobalt and non-magnetic copper. Morrow’s specialized three-dimensional material exhibits promising magnetic properties at room temperature. Similar technology is currently in use in hard disk drive read heads around the world, but the magnetic and non-magnetic layers in traditional read heads are only two-dimensional films. Morrow’s new three-dimensional nanostructured material has the potential to vastly expand data storage capability and could help usher in a new era of microelectronics, reducing the size, cost, and power consumption of magneto-electronic devices.
Second, Morrow developed a microscopic technique to measure the minute magnetic properties of his nano-columns. Prior to his innovation, no such method existed that was fine-tuned enough to sense the magnetic properties of one or even a small number of freestanding nanostructures. Morrow built a specialized scanning tunneling microscope (STM) with no internal magnetic parts. With his modified non-magnetic STM, Morrow was able measure the magnetic properties of as few as 10 nanocolumns at one time. His technique could have important implications for the study of other magnetic nanostructures for magnetic sensing applications including the detection of magnetic ink in currency, and even help detect and further understand the miniscule magnetic fields generated by the human body in the heart and brain.
Morrow originates from Spartanburg, S.C. His father is a retired chemistry professor at Wofford College, the local liberal arts college that Morrow attended for his bachelor’s, and his mother is a master teacher who instructs elementary school teachers in improving their teaching methods.
Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering
Martin Schubert’s innovation could change the way you see the world literally. Schubert has created the first-ever polarized light-emitting diode (LED). His innovation could quickly revolutionize liquid crystal display (LCD) screens on everything from computer monitors and televisions to medical imaging devices and iPods, giving us clearer, more vibrant images in an environmentally safe way.
Over the past decade, LCDs have become commonplace. At the same time, efficient and ecological LEDs are quickly replacing traditional fluorescent lights in many technologies. The invention of the first truly polarized LED could make Schubert a pioneer in the effort to combine the power and environmental soundness of LEDs with the beauty and clarity of LCDs.
Schubert’s polarized LED advances current LED technology in its ability to better control the direction and polarization of the light being emitted. With
better control over the light, less energy is wasted producing scattered light and more light reaches its desired subject. This makes the polarized LED perfectly suited as a backlighting unit for any kind of LCD. Its focused light will produce images on the display that are more colorful, more vibrant, and lifelike, and have no motion artifacts.
In his creation of the polarized LED, Schubert first discovered that traditional LEDs actually produce polarized light, but existing LEDs did not capitalize on the light’s polarization. Armed with this information, Schubert devised an optics setup around the LED chip to enhance the polarization, creating the first truly polarized LED.
Schubert’s polarized LED could become commonplace in televisions and monitors around the world, replacing widely used fluorescent lights that are less efficient and laden in dangerous, toxic mercury. His innovation could also be used for street lighting, high-contrast imaging, sensing, and free-space optics.
His discoveries and their significance have already been widely recognized by the greater scientific community. His research on polarized LEDs has led to three peer-reviewed, archival papers on the topic and several patent applications. In addition, Schubert has already co-authored 15 other papers on his related research.
Schubert was born in Germany and grew up in New Jersey and later the Boston area. He received his bachelor’s from Cornell University in 2004 and master’s in 2005, both in electrical engineering, and was set to pursue a career in computer chip development. But, as fate would have it, the young engineer would develop an extreme talent for the same field of study as his father, renowned lighting research expert and senior chair of the Rensselaer Future Chips Constellation, E. Fred Schubert. Schubert is expected to complete his doctorate in electrical engineering this fall.
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Gang Wang has tested the efficiency of his innovation on the emission control technology on a coal power plant. In his computations, Wang found that his innovation utilized 20 to 40 percent less material while blocking the emission of 40 to 70 percent more nitrogen oxide than traditional control technology.
Wang has developed a technique for design of specialized porous catalysts. Catalysts are used to quickly convert raw materials such as crude oil to gasoline, or the harmful emissions from automobiles and power plants into harmless components. Most modern catalysts are dispersed over a surface of nanoporous materials. Because of the narrow pore size, the nanopores are easy to block, and reactant and product cannot move quickly through the nanopores, limiting efficiency.
Wang developed a quick approach that engineers can use to determine the optimal large-pore diameter for a given catalyst, greatly increasing efficiency. Wang’s technique also ensures that the least amount of expensive catalyst material is used.
With trillions of dollars worth of products developed with catalysts, Wang’s process could have global impact. Catalysts produced with Wang’s simulations are efficient, and in practice, could have a huge impact on environmental protection, cost control, and energy savings.
Wang grew up in northeast China. The son of a nurse and a miner, Wang received a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Dalian University of Technology in China in 2001 and a master’s in chemical engineering from the Institute of Coal Chemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2004. He began his doctorate at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and transferred to Rensselaer in 2006. Wang has published four articles in his field and has presented his research at several international conferences.
If you can’t attend, view the event online at www.eng.rpi.edu/lemelson/index.cfm.