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2001-2002 HIGHLIGHTS












Robert Lasseter, Mahesh Illindala, Giri Venkataramanan and Paulo Piagi

An ECE team is developing power electronic systems and strategies to allow small power producers to switch between making their own power and pulling power from the utility grid. Pictured are Professor Robert Lasseter (top, center), Assistant Professor Giri Venkataramanan (right), and graduate students Mahesh Illindala (left) and Paulo Piagi (seated). (33K JPG)

"Plug-and-play" power electronics for generating power

Rolling blackouts would be a thing of the past if power-hungry small businesses could make their own power. Professor Robert Lasseter and Assistant Professor Giri Venkataramanan are developing microgrid technology that would allow just that. With graduate students Mahesh Illindala and Paulo Piagi, the team is developing power electronic systems and strategies to allow small power producers to seamlessly switch between making their own power and pulling power from the utility grid. Just as a utility matches the power it produces to user demand, each small business will need simple "plug-and-play" type power electronics systems to match the power produced to the loads that make up its own microgrid.

Mechanically simple, single-shaft microturbines spinning between 50,000 to 100,000 rpm on airfoil bearings could provide reliable power, in the 25 to 100 kw range, to a small factory or business like a restaurant or hotel. These small, quiet generators are generally fueled with natural gas, have low emissions and produce heat that when captured for heating water or other purposes, doubles the efficiency of the system.

The team is modifying a 30,000 kw Capstone microturbine with advanced power electronics in order to simulate managing the power generation needs of a small manufacturer. The research is supported in part by a three-year grant from the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The ultimate surveillance system

Advances in smart, low-cost integrated devices containing many different types of sensors, wireless transceivers and processors with significant computing capabilities could make virtually invisible sensor networks a reality in as few as five years, says Professor Parameswaran Ramanathan. The idea is to mass produce these microelectromechanical sensors and sprinkle them over areas to be watched. The devices awaken upon detecting motion, sound, chemicals or other triggers and begin communicating with each other. An analysis of data collected from the various sensors can paint a picture of the event occurring in the monitored area.

Ramanathan is working under a $725,000 five-year grant to investigate issues in establishing and maintaining communication between sensor devices in wireless ad hoc surveillance networks. The grant is part of a multimillion-dollar Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative funded by the Army Research Laboratory.

The project builds on work accomplished by Professors Ramanathan, Kewal Saluja and Yu Hen Hu and Assistant Professor Akbar Sayeed under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant.

Attacking breast cancer with microwaves

Assistant Professor Susan Hagness and Professor Barry Van Veen are developing novel non-ionizing, non-invasive, microwave techniques for early-stage breast cancer detection, monitoring and treatment. Their research group has proposed a technology based on microwave imaging via space-time beam forming.

Breast carcinomas significantly scatter microwaves, and in this approach, each antenna in an array sequentially transmits a low-power, ultra-short microwave pulse into the breast and collects the backscatter signal. The group hopes to adapt robust space-time signal processing algorithms for detecting and localizing small malignant lesions.

The researchers also are investigating therapeutic uses of their technology. By focusing higher-power microwave signals at the site of the cancer, they hope to develop a non-invasive treatment approach that could minimize the complications, discomfort and need for invasive procedures for women with breast cancer.

The project is funded by grants from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, the National Cancer Institute and the National Science Foundation. UW-Madison collaborators include Associate Professor Daniel van der Weide, and Professor John Booske, Professor Kennedy Gilchrist and Dr. Fushen Xu (pathology), Assistant Professor Tara Breslin (surgery), and Associate Professor Frederick Kelcz (radiology).

DNA tool could help "program" genes

Center for NanoTechnology Director and McFarland-Bascom Professor Franco Cerrina, Biotechnology Center Director Michael Sussman and Professor Peter Belshaw (Chemistry and Biochemistry) will adapt their DNA Micro Array Synthesizer (MAS) for the synthesis of long genetic sequences of up to 10,000 base pairs. A three-year, $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Navy will help the team develop new exposure tools and photochemistry needed to achieve its goal.

"The ability to quickly detect long genetic sequences could lead to a portable tool that could identify viruses and other biological agents in real time," says Cerrina. "But even more important will be the associated synthesis capabilities: We will be able to synthesize DNA sequences that could then be used to 'program' genes."

MAS technology allows researchers to make customized DNA chips. It sidesteps the need for delicate and expensive masks by relying on an array of 480,000 tiny aluminum mirrors arranged on a computer chip. By programming the mirrors, the team found it could synthesize DNA by shining light in very specific patterns. Cerrina says the programmability of the mirror arrays will be key to successfully developing a tool for longer sequences.


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