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Home | Tag Archives: em lab

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UTEP EM Lab Develops World’s First 3D Volumetric Circuit

Raymond C. Rumpf, Ph.D., and his EM Lab team are motivated by extreme challenges that others may consider to be impossible.

The Schellenger Professor in Electrical Research in The University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Engineering leads the EM Lab, a space dedicated to pioneering high-risk, high-payoff concepts in electromagnetics and photonic technologies that are enabled by 3D printing.

“We keep a sign above our trash can that says, ‘Incremental thoughts’ on it with an arrow pointing down,” Rumpf said in jest. “If we think it can be done, we are probably not interested.”

But there’s nothing funny about the discoveries that have been made within the lab’s confines. Since 2010, Rumpf and his team of researchers have seen several revolutionary projects to fruition, including development of an ultra-high power frequency selective surface and one of the world’s thinnest dielectric antennas. In addition, the team has recorded what is likely the tightest bend of an optical beam. However, the EM Lab’s latest breakthrough is its most ambitious and far-reaching yet. Earlier this year, researchers completed the first true three-dimensional, volumetric circuit using a fully automated process. It is a feat that Rumpf said may change the paradigm of how products with electrical functionality are designed and manufactured.

“This is a very significant step and potentially disruptive achievement,” Rumpf said. “There are many other large research groups that have been chasing this. It’s what everybody in this field is working toward and talking about, yet nobody has yet achieved it. It’s sort of the holy grail for 3D printed circuits, and it was accomplished here at UTEP.”

Research on the 3D/volumetric circuit technology was borne out of the notion that a three-dimensional circuit offers more freedom to make circuits smaller, lighter and more efficient. 3D printing allows them to be manufactured into arbitrary form factors that can be integrated into any object or surface. The concept offers many opportunities for the manufacturing industry. Rumpf said this recent breakthrough came as a result of years of research and assembling all of the tools and processes it would take to accomplish.

“The last three years were spent developing futuristic CAD (computer-aided design) tools, to produce 3D/volumetric circuits. These tools do not exist anywhere else,” Rumpf said.

Accomplishing these achievements took the work of a team of EM Lab researchers — Gilbert Carranza, Ubaldo Robles, Cesar Valle and Rumpf himself.

Carranza, a doctoral student, began his research in the EM Lab as an undergraduate senior two years ago. When Rumpf presented the challenge of finding a way to design circuits in three dimensions, Carranza jumped at the opportunity. He used an open-sourced CAD software to integrate his custom functions that allowed the EM Lab to design true 3D circuits.

“I built a custom tool that allows us to place electric components in any position and in any orientation,” Carranza said. “We can route the electrical interconnects throughout all three dimensions following smooth paths.”

Carranza worked for a year on the software to produce the first version.

“We couldn’t go anywhere beyond that,” Carranza said. “We didn’t have the necessary tool to actually translate my design into something that could be read by our 3D printer.”

This animation offers a 360-degree view of the exterior and interior of the three-dimensional, volumetric circuit produced by UTEP’s Electromagnetics (EM) Lab. Video: Courtesy of EM Lab

Enter Robles and Valle. The pair are also doctoral students and EM Lab researchers who spend many hours in the 3D printing room. Much of the last year was spent trying to bridge the gap between Carranza’s software and the printing process. At the beginning of summer, Robles successfully completed an interface that could convert the circuit design into code that the printer can read to build the circuit in one seamless step. From there, Valle and Carranza fine-tuned the process and produced the world’s first 3D/volumetric circuit using their automated process.

“Getting the CAD, code generator, and 3D printer to play along well together proved the most difficult step,” Valle said. “Typically, when you make a circuit, it’s two steps. You start with a thin sheet of plastic. On top of that, you form metal traces, then put electrical components onto that. What our tool does that is unique is it combines these processes, and it does it in three dimensions with complete design freedom. We are now able to load 3D files, hit ‘run’ and out comes the part. Literally ‘File,’ ‘Print.’”

Rumpf said there is a huge array of applications for this technology, which was developed using funding from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. With the ability to build circuits into any shape or surface, electronics can be built into anything with virtually no added size or weight.

“We can make circuits in any form or fashion,” Rumpf said. “You could put circuits in munitions, in eyeglasses, in shoes, and even in coffee mugs. You can be at a restaurant drinking coffee and, when the liquid gets down to a certain level the server gets notified before you have to say anything. It’s about making electronics ubiquitous in many different things.”

He added that another aspect of this innovation will be the ability for small businesses that can buy a 3D printer to become electronics manufacturers with the ability to produce products where each is customized.

“In the future, I don’t think you will see places, such as major electronics manufacturing companies, churning out billions of things and dominating the market nearly as often,” Rumpf said. “Instead, you may have thousands of small businesses in the U.S. churning out thousands of products, both mass-produced and customized. Our 3D circuit technology may be the first step to change the paradigm of circuit manufacturing. And it may enable us to exploit and incorporate new physics in traditional planar (2D) circuitry.

For the EM Lab graduate researchers, the effort provided real-world experience in the development of a technology that holds great promise to revolutionize manufacturing of circuits. It is something they credit with spurring them to continue their academic careers past their undergraduate journeys. Their breakthrough also offers the opportunity that a business could be incubated in El Paso to commercialize the EM Lab’s multiple achievements, something that would keep them closer to home.

“I want to stay here in El Paso,” Carranza said. “My whole life is here. I didn’t think UTEP had anything like this. I expected to graduate then go somewhere else. I never thought I was going to be doing research that could literally change the world until I stumbled upon the EM Lab.”

Valle echoed those views.

“Four years ago, if you asked me if I wanted to get a Ph.D., I would have said, ‘no,’” Valle said. “Now, I’m close to getting it. I never considered that UTEP had such incredible opportunities for research like what is happening in the EM Lab.”

Rumpf said there is something about his student researchers that elevates the level of work that can be conducted at the EM Lab.

“What we do is extremely difficult and high-risk,” Rumpf said. “EM Lab students spend years just developing the tools they need to do their research. They know when they start their research, they’re probably going to fail many times, because we are pushing ourselves that far. The type of person willing to take on this daunting level of risk and challenge is what UTEP and El Paso have to offer. It’s a personal philosophy, and I don’t think we could have accomplished this any other place but here.”

Author:  Pablo Villa – UTEP Communications

UTEP Lab Pioneers Electromagnetics and Photonics

Ask anyone in Raymond Rumpf’s EM Lab what they do and they’ll tell you they are doing what most would consider impossible. Failure is common in their work in electromagnetics and photonics, but it is revolutionizing engineering and science as we know it.

Rumpf, Ph.D., Schellenger Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the EM Lab at The University of Texas at El Paso, is a pioneer in 3-D printing of high-frequency circuits and electromagnetic devices. His mission at UTEP is to develop revolutionary technologies that are enabled by 3-D printing.

He founded the EM Lab in 2011 and his team has already delivered an array of significant breakthroughs, including inventing at least two new electromagnetic phenomena. Other accomplishments include creating the world’s highest power frequency selective surface, the world’s most broadband all-dielectric filter, the world’s tightest bend of an unguided optical beam, the world’s thinnest all-dielectric antenna, and spatially variant anisotropic metamaterials (SVAMs).

Most recently, the team’s work has resulted in a new patent for anisotropic metamaterials for electromagnetic compatibility, and a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

“In one area, we’ve invented a new electromagnetic phenomenon that lets us change the shape of the electromagnetic fields around devices,” Rumpf said.

The discovery related to the patent allows the researchers to sculpt electromagnetic fields like clay. One of the applications of their invention could be used in cell phones. The team is presently working with cell phone antennae.

“There’s a lot of stuff crammed really close, creating a terrible electromagnetic environment inside cell phones,” Rumpf explained. “It’s not so much that the antenna is terrible, it’s that it is so close to other metal things, close to other antennae, that it just can’t work very efficiently. Typical antennas in mobile phones are 50 percent efficient or less, so more than half of the energy from your battery is going to heat and being wasted.”

The research toward the patent awarded this fall took years.

“We think we have a rather powerful technology that will help us pack electrical components more closely and sort out the electromagnetic mess this causes,” Rumpf said. “However, there are also new device concepts that this will let us explore.”

Doctoral candidate in electrical engineering Edgar Bustamante is involved in the research.

“The most rewarding part about my research is knowing that it could help mobile devices work dramatically better, and everyone who uses a cell phone can benefit from this,” Bustamante said.

The breakthrough also will give circuits new functionality, Rumpf said. Next, the team will work on proving their discovery in settings other than their 3-D printed model mobile phone.

“I think if we are successful it will revolutionize electromagnetics for sure and that is pretty exciting,” Rumpf added. “It’s a high-risk technology. There is a real chance that something will go wrong. That is a consequence of working on the edge.”

Rumpf’s research team is comprised of highly ambitious engineers. They are all doctoral candidates fueled by the opportunity to explore the unknown and do the impossible.

“Our work is ground breaking and never conceived before,” said Ubaldo Robles, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering. “We are right at the edge of theoretical physics and applied science and sometimes we even drift past that. Most of our concepts haven’t been imagined by scientists before. My role in the EM Lab has made me one of only a handful of people who can design, develop, manufacture and test 3-D-printed electronics in the world.”

Noel Pedro Martinez, another doctoral candidate in electrical engineering, echoes the incredible experience the students are getting by working in the EM Lab.

“The work the EM Lab does is very important for both the students and the university,” he said. “Obviously, for students it provides us with the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research and acquire some degree of fame and notoriety in our fields of study. Not only do we conduct research that could change the world, but the EM Lab also has all of the capabilities and resources necessary to see the research through from start to finish. Students get training to use high-end machines and industry standard software. For the University, it helps further UTEP’s mission of becoming a top research institution and develop a reputation for producing research that exceeds that of the bigger universities.”

Martinez joined the EM Lab three years ago. His current work involves a new concept called “photon funnels.”

Collecting and concentrating light is an essential process in any system utilizing light. Conventional lenses collect light and concentrate it to a spot, but the concentration spot moves as light rays strike the lens at different angles or different positions. As a result, sensors and detectors lose energy as the light changes.

“Photon funnels are nanoscale 3-D lattices that direct the flow of light using a new optical phenomenon recently invented by the EM Lab,” Martinez explained. “We design the photon funnels using a novel algorithm developed here at the EM Lab that can bend, twist and otherwise spatially vary our lattices without degrading their magical properties. Imagine having to abruptly bend the pattern of a checkerboard, but without changing the size and shape of the squares. Seems impossible, right? But we figured out how to do it and we are the only ones in the world who can.”

The group received a grant for $174,000 from the National Science Foundation during the summer for the research on photon funnels. Rumpf and his EM Lab team are working with Stephen Kuebler, Ph. D., associate professor of chemistry at the University of Central Florida (UCF), and his lab.

“What’s neat about this is that almost all optical devices are limited by refraction, where the angle of the transmitted light depends on the angle of incident light,” Rumpf said. “Our lattices are able to break Snell’s law that describes refraction, allowing us to beat the performance of lenses for collecting light. This seems to violate fundamental physics, but we at the EM Lab do not let fundamental physics get in the way of good ideas. Inside our lattices there is no refraction, it ceases to exist, so we can circumvent the conventional laws of optics that are limiting everybody.”

Using a multidisciplinary approach that combines theory, simulation, fabrication and optical testing, the team will develop fundamental knowledge to enable scientists and engineers to design photon funnels for a myriad of applications.

UTEP is responsible for the design and theory and the UCF team will conduct the fabrication and testing. The benefits to society of the three-year project will include new technologies for imaging, optical detection and sensing, telecommunications, energy harvesting, and relaxed alignment tolerances in photonic systems.

“The most rewarding part about research is the excitement and satisfaction that comes with achieving a new breakthrough,” said electrical engineering doctoral student Cesar Luis Valle. “Much of our time is spent being hopelessly stuck on a problem for what can be long periods of time. Finally being able to solve a problem and reaching that ‘Eureka!’ moment is exhilarating.”

Valle is working on another aspect of the EM Lab’s work that has to do with metamaterials, photonic crystals and 3-D printing.

“I am involved on a patent that contains new photonic crystal technologies and methods,” Valle explained. “Photonic crystals are periodic structures that allow us to manipulate electromagnetic radiation in new ways and are also one of the technologies our group has become famous for. Another aspect of my research involves the use of our nScrypt 3Dn Tabletop hybrid 3-D printer capable of printing multiple types of materials (plastics and conductors) at the same time and engineering new processes that are only achievable with the use of this hybrid 3-D printing technology.”

Gilbert Carranza, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, was highly drawn to the 3-D printing and unconventional technologies the EM Lab regularly explores. Though he has only been a part of the group for a couple of years, his research has already broken barriers. His prior research for the EM Lab involved developing a tool to design truly three-dimensional electronic circuits. 3-D circuits are smaller, lighter, more power efficient, and can be made into shapes not possible with traditional circuit technology.

“I found the first completed version of the 3-D CAD circuit tool I developed to be very rewarding,” Carranza said. “We now have ideas of what three-dimensional circuits might look like in the future. The fact that I am seeing what no one else has ever seen before is amazing to me. It will be even more rewarding when the tool is refined and optimized to produce even more complicated and intricate models and designs.”

The list of accomplishments and ongoing research also includes work on a multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) antenna configuration to improve communication devices, and exploring concepts to build and test proof-of-concept asymmetric electromagnetic devices to assess asymmetric behavior that exists at interfaces for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

Three other patents are pending related to the work at the EM Lab.

“In the beginning, it was just a bunch of insane ideas that people were shaking their heads at,” Rumpf said. “Over the years, we’ve managed to prove our concepts to a point where people are convinced and are seeing all of the ways the concepts can be used.”

To find out more about the EM Lab, visit it online.

UTEP Team Earns NSF Grant for Electromagnetics and Photonics Research

The EM Lab, a group of UTEP researchers led by Raymond Rumpf, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, has secured a new patent for anisotropic metamaterials for electromagnetic compatibility, and a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The NSF grant was awarded for research on photon funnels, which are “nanoscale 3-D lattices that direct the flow of light using a new optical phenomenon recently invented by the EM Lab,” said Noel Pedro Martinez, doctoral candidate in electrical engineering. Rumpf and his EM Lab team are working with Stephen Kuebler, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry at the University of Central Florida (UCF), and his Kuebler Lab.

“In one area, we’ve invented a new electromagnetic phenomenon that lets us change the shape of the electromagnetic fields around devices,” Rumpf said.

The discovery related to the patent allows the researchers to sculpt electromagnetic fields like clay. One of the applications of their invention could be used in cell phones. The team is presently working with cell phone antennae.

Rumpf founded the EM Lab in 2011 and his team has already delivered an array of very significant breakthroughs, including inventing at least two new electromagnetic phenomena.

Rumpf is a pioneer in 3-D printing of high-frequency circuits and electromagnetic devices. His mission at UTEP is to develop revolutionary technologies that are enabled by 3-D printing.

Three other patents are pending related to the work at the EM Lab. Rumpf came to UTEP with 13 patents. The Schellenger Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the EM Lab says the awards are rewarding for the work the team conducts, as many couldn’t believe their discoveries were possible.

“In the beginning, it was just a bunch of insane ideas that people were shaking their heads at,” Rumpf recalled. “Over the years, we’ve managed to prove our concepts to a point where people are convinced and are seeing all of the ways the concepts can be used.”

To learn more about the EM Lab, visit it online.

Grants for UTEP Fund Research in 3-D Printing

Two research projects will explore new frontiers in electrical engineering that is enabled by 3-D printing. Both will be under the direction of Raymond C. Rumpf, Ph.D., Schellenger Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the EM Lab at UTEP.

The first project involves a two-year investigation into how 3-D printing can be used to advance RF (radio-frequency) sensor system technology. Rumpf and student researcher Gilbert Carranza will utilize $200,000 from the Air Force Research Laboratory to explore high-frequency circuits and to develop a methodology to manufacture periodic structures onto curved surfaces.

“When you have a 3-dimensional circuit, you have to route signals around the three dimensions and it must be accomplished in ways that have never been done before,” Rumpf said. “We need to invent what that will look like and how to build it by 3-D printing.”

The second project involves research with a proprietary company to demonstrate spatially variant anisotropic metamaterials (SVAMs) in a multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) antenna configuration.

The purpose is to reduce the mutual coupling between the antennas which seriously limits performance and how small they can be made.

Utilizing an $84,000 grant, Rumpf and student researcher Edgar Bustamante started in January by studying the basic physics of anisotropic metamaterials. The remaining tasks will be to incorporate and simulate the MIMO configuration in a realistic setting such as around human body parts like hands and head.

“If we have very tightly packed electrical devices, the devices will be very close to each other and you get noise and interference and bad things happen,” Rumpf explained. “We discovered that if we put bumps and grooves and holes in the plastic between the antennas, or between the electrical components, we can fix the electromagnetic problems. It’s quite a revolutionary technology.”

Three patents related to the technology have been developed at UTEP and a license agreement is in place to mature the technology.

“Suddenly your batteries are going to last twice as long in your cell phone, much higher data rates can be achieved, and there will be many more applications for this technology,” Rumpf said.

Research on this project is expected to be complete in December 2017 and is very close to commercialization.

Rumpf is a pioneer in 3-D printing of high-frequency circuits and electromagnetic devices. His mission at UTEP is to develop revolutionary technologies that are enabled by 3-D printing. He founded the EM Lab in 2011 and his team has already delivered an array of significant breakthroughs, including the world’s highest power frequency selective surface, the world’s most broadband all-dielectric filter, the world’s tightest bend of an unguided optical beam, SVAMs and more.

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