Future Applications: Intelligent Market Research

Future Applications: Diagnostic Pajamas

Future: Biomimetics

Future: Video Archives

Medical Devices In Microchips

Corrections or additions?

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

Top Of Page
Future Applications: Intelligent Market Research

Market researchers spend lots of money trying to figure

out why people buy what they buy, and here’s where basic science

discoveries

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)

machine,

psychologists and engineers are teaming up to do just that at

Princeton

University’s Center for the Study of Brain, Mind, and Behavior

(www.csbmb.princeton.edu).

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

Dentistry

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

measurements

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

"connectionist"

framework. His latest discoveries are to be printed soon in Science

magazine.

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

"neural

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."

Top Of Page
Future Applications: Diagnostic Pajamas

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

display,"

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

problem"

says Wagner. "We are just beginning to make skin-like fabric for

sensing purposes, a diagnostic pajama. Instead of lying in an

intensive

care station with all the electrodes stuck on your body, the pajama

has all the electronics in it and transmits the information

wirelessly.

"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

electrical

outlet, it could theoretically send signals any distance. A wireless

unit might transmit only to a nursing station and need to be

re-charged

every day.

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

programmable

card-sized displays for showing prices in supermarkets. "The

company

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

electrical

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

conductors

so that the connections are reliable. A graduate of Harvard with an

MBA from Sloan, he worked for Steve Sashihara at Princeton

Consultants.

Eschewing the writing of grant proposals, he found private investors

and formed his own company, Aegis Semiconductor in Lawrence,

Massachusetts.

"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."

Top Of Page
Future: Biomimetics

Ilhan A. Aksay, a professor in the department of

engineering,

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

University

of California at Berkeley. He started a company in Seattle that was

purchased in 1995. In 1992 he moved to Princeton and, since then

"did

not pursue commercial opportunities as aggressively as before."

Focusing on biomimetics, he heads Princeton’s Ceramics Materials

Laboratory

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.

Top Of Page
Future: Video Archives

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

applications

in mind and thought it could be used by sports announcers, when

comparing

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

capability

for this archive could provide insights about how to land a jet

aircraft

in different sea conditions. Says Montemarano: "Now, there is

a potentially useful application beyond filling in the talking heads

for the Olympics."

Top Of Page
Medical Devices In Microchips

Physicist Sandra Troian, above, has not yet started

a company, but the idea is a gleam in her eye. "We have a

prototype,"

she says. She has a new design for injecting and driving fluids in

microchips. "We are working on thermocapillary motion —

modifying

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

Road-based

Orchid Biosciences, and Pharmaseq, Wlodek Mandecki’s company at

Princeton

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

process

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

national

priority, and the federal government is putting forward $500 million

in research funding to make sure we move rapidly into industrial

uses."

Montemarano says that university scientists are actively looking for

biologically interesting projects to do in the clean labs and

nanofabrication

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 —

light-powered

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

instrumentation,

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

Montemarano.

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

through

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

capitalists."


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