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This article by Barbara Figge Fox was prepared for the August 22,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
From the Ivory Tower, Entrepreneurial Sparks, Part B
Market researchers spend lots of money trying to figure
out why people buy what they buy, and here’s where basic science
could help. If we could understand the biological underpinnings of
human behavior, we could predict behavior more accurately.
With the help of a $5 million magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
psychologists and engineers are teaming up to do just that at
University’s Center for the Study of Brain, Mind, and Behavior
The center’s goal is to promote interdisciplinary research on brain
function and how it gives rise to human function and cognition. If
the state can chip in extra funds, it could expand statewide to serve
as the New Jersey Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Imaging.
Chemist Warren Warren and Jonathan Cohen of the psychology department
are collaborating on the CSBMB. Siemens is a corporate supporter,
and researchers participate from the University of Medicine and
of New Jersey. This field combines physics, chemistry, electrical
engineering, and psychology.
One area of research is on how blood flow changes in the brain can
reveal thought processes. When a particular neuron is being used,
it uses oxygen in areas where the brain is active, and instruments
can measure this difference in concentration. So quick are these
that they can index brain activities.
Another way to study the biological underpinnings of learning behavior
is to develop neural network models of human performance. Cohen does
this by using the parallel distributed processing or
framework. His latest discoveries are to be printed soon in Science
Another use for the MRI is to study the brain mechanisms that underlie
people’s decisions. The nascent study of "neural economics"
has implications for economic theorists as well as for marketers who
want to study how people make choices. Before, economists assumed
that economic decisions are in a standard, rational way. The
economics" studies assume the process is not rational. But are
decisions made randomly? Or as a result of evolutionary development
of the brain. "Whether we live in the jungle or the savannahs,
we made decisions adapted to those circumstances," says Cohen.
Following that line of reasoning, the human brain may have evolved
a mechanism that was expedient for the time but is not universally
optimal. "Understanding those constraints could lead us to better
model of economic behavior," Cohen says. He cautions that this
study has only "long term potential."
Researchers live in the future," says 59-year-old
Sigurd Wagner, an electrical engineering professor. "We talk like
something exists, but it may be quite a while before it shows up in
medical supply stores. In the lab, you can be 10 or 20 years ahead
of your time, then when you go back home it is today again."
Wagner and James Sturm are working on large area electronics printing
for customized applications. "We do printing — transistors
and something else on top of it, so you have a paper-like
says Wagner. The product might be wall-size devices to create white
noise for soundproof rooms. Or a flexible blanket with sensors to
detect microdefects in the skin of an aircraft that could replace
dozens of hand-held devices that mechanics use.
"You can make it into something that senses biological functions,
a card that you wear in a breast pocket, and the card will sense some
chemical that comes out of your body and alert you if there is a
says Wagner. "We are just beginning to make skin-like fabric for
sensing purposes, a diagnostic pajama. Instead of lying in an
care station with all the electrodes stuck on your body, the pajama
has all the electronics in it and transmits the information
"It will feel like standard fabric, but every foot or so we will
have to stick sequin-like chips." To make it comfortable to wear,
the sequins might be put in the armpits. Transmission distance will
depend on the power source. If the pajama is connected to an
outlet, it could theoretically send signals any distance. A wireless
unit might transmit only to a nursing station and need to be
In addition to long-term R&D his group is working with Hoboken-based
Visible Semiconductor, which has a product that could come to market
soon. Alex Gelbman, the faculty liaison, is working on remotely
card-sized displays for showing prices in supermarkets. "The
has its own display technology and is using our printing techniques
to print the transistors needed," says Wagner.
His unit has eight people, including PhD students and one long-term
researcher, Helena Gleskova. "I couldn’t do this work without
the facilities that are owned by POEM," he says. "Like many
other people I use the clean room for the microstructuring."
Born in Vienna, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna
and came to this country in 1968, studying first at Ohio State and
then joining AT&T to work in Murray Hill and Holmdel. In 1978 he was
head of photovoltaic research department at what is now the National
Renewal Energy Lab in Colorado. He came to Princeton to teach
engineering in 1980; his wife, Erica, teaches French and German to
private students, particularly children. They have two grown sons,
Matthias and Wolfgang.
"With our sons we always talked about how important it is to be
able to form independent judgments. We looked at American and European
newspapers, and what they focused on, and said `Let’s look at what
is going on. What is your opinion about it? Here is mine.’"
Matthias Wagner is making use of his father’s technology and adapting
it to fiberoptic communications to help connect many fiber optic
so that the connections are reliable. A graduate of Harvard with an
MBA from Sloan, he worked for Steve Sashihara at Princeton
Eschewing the writing of grant proposals, he found private investors
and formed his own company, Aegis Semiconductor in Lawrence,
"He looked at me writing research proposals and saw it was a great
hassle," says Wagner. "`If I were you,’ he said, `I wouldn’t
spend the effort writing proposals but would get the companies to
fund it. It is just as much work but you make more money that way.’
But, as a central European, I am so conservative."
Ilhan A. Aksay, a professor in the department of
has had the experience of starting a company at another university
and chooses, instead, to consult to corporations.
Aksay, above, grew up in the state of Washington, and went to the
University of Washington, Class of 1967, and has a PhD from the
of California at Berkeley. He started a company in Seattle that was
purchased in 1995. In 1992 he moved to Princeton and, since then
not pursue commercial opportunities as aggressively as before."
Focusing on biomimetics, he heads Princeton’s Ceramics Materials
and consults to Johnson & Johnson on orthopedic implants by laser
stereolithography. Bone is grown under laser control. Units of bone
are designed by computers, loaded onto a computer-controlled laser
device, and then the new implant is literally "grown," using
base materials on the micro and nano scales.
The example of Peter Ramadge, head of the electrical
engineering department at Princeton, demonstrates how basic research
can easily morph into commercial or military applications. Ramadge
had an idea for video imaging; he figured out ways to index and search
for video clips in large databases. Initially he had sports
in mind and thought it could be used by sports announcers, when
a quarterback’s touchdown passes or a competitive diver’s jackknife.
Then Montemarano heard about the U.S. Navy’s video archive of jet
plane activity on aircraft carriers and suggested that a search
for this archive could provide insights about how to land a jet
in different sea conditions. Says Montemarano: "Now, there is
a potentially useful application beyond filling in the talking heads
for the Olympics."
Physicist Sandra Troian, above, has not yet started
a company, but the idea is a gleam in her eye. "We have a
she says. She has a new design for injecting and driving fluids in
microchips. "We are working on thermocapillary motion —
the surface tension of liquids on biofluidic chips, so the liquid
will automatically migrate toward the colder temperature."
Troian works at the Center for Biomolecular Applications for Nanoscale
Structures, which has two state-funded laboratories in the J-wing
of the engineering quad, one for microfabrication and the other for
nanofabrication, together worth $6 to $8 million. The two labs are
connected by a clean room.
The faculty at this center also includes James Sturm (the director),
Jeff Carback, Bob Austin, Ted Cox, Don Winkleman of the University
of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and George Siegel and Wilma
Olsen, both of Rutgers. Among the corporate collaborators who take
advantage of the lab’s resources to make prototypes are College
Orchid Biosciences, and Pharmaseq, Wlodek Mandecki’s company at
Corporate Plaza at Deerpark Drive, Route 1 South.
The official name for the work done here is the "convergence of
micro/nanofabrication and molecular biology for nanoscale patterned
biological substrates and arrays." Scientists here take procedures
formerly done with test tubes and shrink them so they can be performed
by microscopic vessels on microfluidic computer chips.
"We are making that first wafer to discover whether or not it
is worth making by mass fabrication techniques," says Montemarano.
Because corporations have adjusted their procedures so they conform
with strict ISO standards, they have lost some of their flexibility.
If so much as one knob is turned, the arduous ISO certification
must begin again. "People have come to work with us to turn knobs
and work with new gases and new materials because it would take them
a year to re-certify," he says. "We offer the advantage that,
in terms of electrical engineering, there are people here who can
make very small structures and can pattern structures with different
types of surfaces."
Industry had been working on MEMS and nanotechnology for the last
10 years and only in the last two years is there anything to show
for it, says Montemarano. "When industry works on something for
that long, there is a great deal of skepticism about how it will never
come to fruition. But the academic community and some visionaries
in industry (at Bell Labs) continued to pursue it. Now it is a
priority, and the federal government is putting forward $500 million
in research funding to make sure we move rapidly into industrial
Montemarano says that university scientists are actively looking for
biologically interesting projects to do in the clean labs and
laboratories. "In essence," says Montemarano, "we have
gone to the life science community and have asked, `Is there anything
we can do for you with nanostructures?’" The answer is yes. Wlodek
Mandecki’s initial prototyping for his company Pharmaseq —
microtransponders for drug assay and DNA testing — was done with
Sarnoff. Then Mandecki began to draw on the consulting resources and
facilities at POEM. Now Pharmaseq has prototypes of its
an equity investment from a large Japanese company, and has expanded
to 6,000 square feet at Princeton Corporate Plaza.
"We actually let users come in and work in our lab themselves,
with us," says Montemarano. "What people report to us, why
they like working in our facilities, is that there is help and support
but they have a great deal of control."
The university charges basic costs but requires the outside researcher
to work with someone on the faculty. "One of the things that I
do is help them find a faculty member to collaborate with," says
Montemarano. "By at least beginning to make it known that there
is some entrepreneurial interest and industrial collaboration, you
start to attract some people who are oriented that way."
One project, assisted by the medical expertise of Don Winkleman of
UMDNJ is to grow structured arrays of cardiac tissue and actually
be able to apply a current across electrodes, so cardiac tissue will
pulse like a heart — so scientist can try different therapeutic
activities. "With living tissue, you might expect to see fairly
directly whether the compound has the hoped-for effect" says
Troian is a first generation American whose parents came from Trieste,
Italy. She majored in solid state physics at Harvard, Class of 1980,
earned her doctor’s degree from Cornell, did post doctoral studies
in Paris, and worked for Exxon before joining Princeton’s faculty
in 1993. Her husband, Peter Thompson, owns an Internet consulting
company, Celerity Group, at 20 Nassau Street.
"Fluidic chips move incredibly small volumes of liquids from one
point to another, and most people are trying to do this by an inside
network of channels, etching silicon or glass and gluing two plates
together," says Troian. "But it is hard to push liquids
such a small space, so they use electric fields, magnetic fields,
or pumps. This requires a lot of peripheral equipment."
Troian hopes for battery-powered units small enough to continuously
measure an individual’s health. "One goal is to be able to mount
a chip on a soldier’s arm and have it draw liquids continuously. We
move the liquids on the liquid surface of a chip, using chemistry
so it will move only on prescribed pathways." The method: delicate
changes in temperature. "If one part is hot and one part is cold,
the liquid will spontaneously move to the cold. We have a prototype,
but we haven’t done it with biological fluids."
Her current funding comes from the National Science Foundation and
the defense department. "Starting a company is in the back of
my mind," says Troian. "I hope to speak to some venture
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