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Emerging technology education.

If you enjoy learning as much as Dr. Mehran Mehregany, director of the Case School of Engineering San Diego and Goodrich Professor of Engineering Innovation at Case Western Reserve University, you too may find it hard to succinctly describe your interests. Academic, researcher, entrepreneur, inventor, and innovator--Mehregany is a good example of the wide range of directions that an inquisitive mind may follow.

He describes himself as "a sensor guy," and sensors have been a consistent theme throughout his undertakings. Although his degrees are in electrical engineering, he's long been interested in materials and mechanical design. This combination of topics is ideal for sensors and underpinned Mehregany's MEMS work at Bell Labs while pursuing his Ph.D. at MIT in the late 1980s.

The backstory

As a faculty member at Case Western in 1990, he started working with silicon carbide (SiC), first as single crystals and later in a polycrystalline form. Developing suitable process technology took several years, with the goal of making high-temperature pressure sensors. By early 2000, after abandoning single-crystal SiC because of its high level of dislocations, he could fabricate surface-micromachined polycrystalline SiC capacitive pressure sensors on 4-inch Si wafers. These were shown to work well at 600[degrees]C--an important achievement for in-cylinder engine pressure measurement to improve combustion and reduce emissions. He also leveraged SiC's significant erosion and corrosion resistance to develop jet fuel nozzles for gas turbine engines and its high modulus to develop >1-GHz nanomechanical resonators.

Work on SiC interface circuitry followed from about 2005, and interface circuits also have been demonstrated to work at 600[degrees]C. To date, the sensors and interface circuitry remain separate with hybrid development being the goal. Both the sensor and interface designs benefited from knowledge previously gained at NASA's John H. Glenn Research Center.

In 1991, Mehregany created a short course on MEMS that, in collaboration with MCNC at Research Triangle Park, NC, trained 700 to 800 people mostly from industry and some from academia during the decade. It was important to disseminate knowledge for the expanding MEMS field, but at that time there were no formal educational materials.

He founded Advanced Micromachines in 1993, a MEMS-based sensor company bought by BFGoodrich in 1999. During 2001-2002, he also was involved with FLX Micro, a company spun out from Case Western to commercialize SiC sensor technology. And, in 2006, Mehregany helped Georgia Institute of Technology's Professor Farrokh Ayazi to commercialize that university's MEMS inertial sensor technology by cofounding Qualtre.

From his academic experience, Mehregany was familiar with the way a lot of university research was funded: An interested government department or agency would issue a request for a proposal to which a university department or professor would reply, highlighting details of some innovative research or development project.

As described on NineSigma's website, "Dr. Mehran Mehregany founded NineSigma in 2000 on the premise that industry needed an effective means for broadcasting corporate needs to potential solution providers to stay ahead of the technology curve, similar to the methods employed by the U.S. government research group DARPA." Today, there are NineSigma operations in seven countries around the world.

Spreading the word

In 2007, Mehregany and Case Western decided to establish a satellite academic program in the San Diego area, although the details had not been worked out. A chance encounter with Qualcomm's vice president of life sciences confirmed to Mehregany the growing interest in wireless health, which became the focus of the new program.

In addition to his Case Western electrical engineering and computer science faculty positions, Mehregany holds a secondary appointment in the Biomedical Engineering department. Since its pioneering establishment in 1968, the department has gained a well-deserved reputation for excellence. Pursuing wireless health as the initial San Diego program effectively leveraged the Biomedical Engineering department's considerable strengths and the professor's innovation and sensor experience to create a medically oriented university startup.

An opportunity at the West Wireless Health Institute (now part of the overall West Health organization) verified the importance of wireless health, especially in less developed countries. West Wireless Health began collaborating with the Carlos Slim Health Institute in Mexico on early risk pregnancy monitoring. On leave from Case Western, Mehregany worked for 10 months at West Wireless Health as its founding executive vice president of engineering, formulating and leading the development of the Sense4Baby monitoring product based on that collaboration. The technology subsequently was acquired by AirStrip and has most recently been integrated with an app compatible with Apple's new Apple Watch.

In 2011, the founding of The Case School of Engineering San Diego was formalized. Mehregany explained that similar to the early MEMS courses he had established, he wanted to create formal wireless health educational programs for working professionals. The San Diego satellite is linked to the Case Western Cleveland campus via the usual email and phone capabilities as well as frequently used video conferencing. Mehregany said that the wireless health and wearable computing programs were evolving at both locations, with new faculty being hired and existing faculty moving into these areas.

He concluded, "Since our wireless health program launch in the fall of 2011, we have graduated 17 master's degree and 13 graduate certificate students. These have essentially all been working professionals from tech companies. We have had an additional 67 students taking individual courses from our program.... We currently have 20 students pursuing their master's or grad certificate in wireless health. These are all working professionals. We will launch our wearable computing offerings in the fall of 2016."

Dr. Mehran Mehregany

Director, Case School of Engineering San Diego and Goodrich Professor of Engineering Innovation Case Western Reserve University

By Tom Leckilder, Senior Technical Editor
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Title Annotation:EXECUTIVE INSIGHT; dialogue with Case School of Engineering San Diego and Goodrich Professor of Engineering Innovation's Mehran Mehregany
Author:Leckilder, Tom
Publication:EE-Evaluation Engineering
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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Next Article:Defining the first "I" in 'IIoT'.

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