As implantable technology continues to evolve and become more widespread, Electrical Engineering doctoral researcher Flavius Pop is tackling the question of how to help the devices in peoples’ bodies communicate with technology in the external world by thinking small – very, very small. A PhD candidate in Northeastern’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and President of the ECE PhD Students Association, Pop is studying the potential of implantable micron-scale electro-mechanical devices to act as wireless connectors for medical implants and more.
After completing his undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering, Pop found his interest shifting to a smaller scale – MEMS, or Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems. He undertook a Master’s degree to study them at Università degli Studi di Udine in his home town in Italy in 2014 and during an International Master in Nanotechnology at ESIEE Paris in France in 2015. For his master thesis, he received a one-year Research Fellowship in the MEMS lab of Professor Gianluca Piazza at Carnegie Mellon University in 2016.
It was there that he would meet his future research advisor at Northeastern, Associate Professor Matteo Rinaldi, during the International IEEE MEMS Conference. “Professor Rinaldi was telling me about this new research topic he wanted to start in his lab at Northeastern,” Pop recalls, “making MEMS devices with piezoelectric materials, called PMUTs.”
PMUTs – short for Piezoelectric Micromachined Ultrasonic Transducers – can transmit and receive ultrasonic frequency signals, transmitting information and power from outside the body to devices implanted within it. “These devices can receive energy in the form of ultrasonic waves from an external source, which they could convert to power for an implant,” Pop explains, “So we hope to attach them to implanted technology, like a pacemaker for example, to recharge the implant’s batteries wirelessly. Nobody has yet pushed this technology at the research level to the extent where you can have miniaturized intra-body actuators for this kind of application.”
While Pop expects to complete his PhD at the end of 2020, he plans to participate in internship opportunities before he does, starting with a co-op at TDK InvenSense in Boston for Summer 2019. After he completes his PhD, he plans to pursue a career in industry or academia – he just hasn’t settled on which one. “There are not many people actually doing the work to advance this technology, and I think maybe I could be the one to pursue it” he says, “So I want to do some more research to find out which company or university would be most interested in pushing this technology forward.”