BSAC Spring IAB Meeting Trip Report: It’s the System, Stupid

Contributed by Karen Lightman, Managing Director, MEMS Industry Group

It was my honor and pleasure to be a guest at Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center’s (BSAC) Spring IAB meeting March 10-12, 2010. Every year in March and September, BSAC’s industrial members, faculty, and BSAC researchers meet at the UC Berkeley campus for the three day IAB Meeting. Each day of the meeting presents different opportunities to learn about and discuss BSAC research. (View my Powerpoint slides on the MIG website.)

This was my first time at BSAC, and I was very impressed. I was impressed not only by the 126 poster session presentations (they had 45 seconds each to entice you to their poster presentation in the morning and afternoon sessions on 3/11) but by the people themselves. Executive director of BSAC, John Huggins, has done a fantastic job of bringing together some of the leading researchers in the UC system and matching them with their industry members. There are about 40 industrial member companies in BSAC, seven of which I am pleased to say are MIG members: Analog Devices, Bosch, Draper Labs, Honeywell, Intel, InvenSense, and Northrop Grumman.

The presentations were grouped into several “thrusts” of interest:

  • BioMEMS
  • CAD
  • Microfluidics
  • Micropower
  • NanoPlasmonics, Microphotonics & Imaging
  • NanoTechnology: Materials, Processes & Devices
  • Package, Process & Microassembly
  • Physical Sensors & Devices
  • Wireless, RF & Smart Dust

I enjoyed most of the presentations, but the presentation by graduate student Li-Wen Hung’s on “A New Transducer for Micromechanical Resonators” was my definite favorite. Though many of the presentations were a bit “blue sky, we can only do this in the lab” type of projects and research, Hung’s presentation was very thorough and I could see the real-world commercialization potential of her research. I am sure I am not alone in this analysis, and I hope that future research dollars come her way.

I also enjoyed connecting with many colleagues at BSAC who I haven’t seen in a while, including Clark Nguyen and Luke Lee, both cornerstones of BSAC research. But the highlight of my visit was when Honeywell’s Aravind Padmanabhan and Cleo Cabuz received awards to celebrate Honeywell’s 20 year commitment and involvement in BSAC. It was great to reconnect with Cleo who, many of you may recall, was MIG’s executive director back in MIG’s early years (2003-4) and played a pivotal role in shaping the mission and success of MIG.

It is visionary thinkers like Cleo that have shaped the MEMS industry—these are the folks who have always realized the potential of MEMS as an enabling technology. Though Cleo is no longer running Honeywell’s MEMS Lab (Aravind is doing that ably now), as CTO of Honeywell’s Life Safety Division, Cleo is often deciding if MEMS is or isn’t the right solution.

Seeing Cleo again and connecting with new and old colleagues this trip helped me create a new mantra: “It’s the system, stupid.” Probably not a great branding slogan or battle cry, but really, what makes MEMS so unique is what it does in the system (the package), not what the MEMS chip does in isolation. It’s the system wherein MEMS is revolutionizing the way we sense, see and interact with the world.

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