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Technology transfers from a lab in CeNSE, IISc

Designing the world’s smallest speakers that are inspired by the chirping of crickets, writing some of the tiniest metal patterns in a frugal way and mechanically detecting cancer in living cells are some of the most exciting technology transfers brewing from one lab in the Centre for Nanoscience and Technology, Indian Institute of Science.

While delivering an Institute colloquium Professor Rudra Pratap, Centre for Nanoscience and Technology, talked in detail about how they have taken great strides in converting the science they study into technology that may impact the society in a number of ways. He shares three main stories with the audience.

The first story is about how they turned an accidental discovery into a technique that could save billions of dollars for the semiconductor industry. Currently, immensely expensive facilities are required to create tiny structures that run the chips inside our computers. The technique developed by Prof. Rudra’s team can do the same at a fraction of that cost. They use a sharp metal tip to bombard electrons onto a metal, this ‘electron wind’ melts the metal underneath and also causes it to flow creating tiny structures. The next step is to improve the reliability of the method and commercialize the product.

The second story is about the work inspired by the loud chirping songs of the tiny field crickets. The jam packed auditorium, lit up with Prof. Rudra’s enthusiasm, listened to how male crickets produce the chirping sound mechanically by rubbing their wings together. Their wings contain a file that has a set of teeth and a plectrum. When the wings are rubbed together the plectrum plucks the teeth in the file to produce the high pitched chirping. This sound is then amplified by a harp like structure on the wings. The arrangement of the set of teeth looks incredible in an image that is a thousand times zoomed and Prof. Rudra calls it “a mesmerising structure, with engineering at its best”.

They have now, after making accurate computer models, made an artificial cricket of their own. Although, it does not look like a cricket but sounds like one. This may have a significant impact on the audio technology, as we still use an ancient method for sound generation whereby a coil oscillates inside a big magnet to create the sound, these speakers are therefore large. Their device would achieve the same sound intensity with a much smaller size.

His third story is about aiding medical diagnosis by analysing the mechanical properties of biological cells. They discovered that the vibration signatures of healthy and abnormal cells are different, which allows the detection of pathology in tissues. With more work, this technology could be used as a diagnostic tool.

Finally, Prof. Rudra Pratap who is also the Chairperson for the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering talked about watching from the ‘dugout’ as he calls it, similar efforts by other faculty members in his department. Prof. Navakanta Bhat’s group has created a diabetes sensor and the work has already been integrated into a handheld device by a start-up called PathShodh. Another major effort is underway in the department, guided by Prof. Srinivasan Raghavan to commercialise the growth of Gallium Nitride on Silicon wafers. Gallium Nitride has a wide range of applications from LEDs to high power electronics and a commercial GaN foundry could attract major demand from the industry.

The efforts to translate science into technology require experts from different fields to work in unison and each example that Prof. Rudra shared had collaborators from physics, mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, and biology departments. The Centre for Nano Science and Engineering that was established in 2010 with a mandate to pursue interdisciplinary research on the nanoscale has attracted the best faculty and students and already seems to be making a difference to science, technology, and society in India.

About the speaker

Prof. Rudra Pratap is a Professor and Chairperson at Centre for Nano Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Science,Bengaluru 560012, India. He is also associated with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IISc.

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