Student’s Work Could Diminish Reliance on Batteries

Grant Funds PhD Researcher’s Quest for Way to Enable Self-Powered Electronics

Apr. 18, 2011

A UT Dallas graduate student has won a $120,000 fellowship to develop technology he hopes will power a new generation of autonomous wireless devices to improve the quality of life and safety for people everywhere.

In a nutshell, Joey Sankman wants to go beyond batteries.

Project Funded by NSF
Grad Research Program

Graduate student Joey Sankman’s research is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which supports “outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” Fellows are free to conduct their research at any U.S. institution of graduate education they choose, and past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners.

The PhD student in electrical engineering is working on a way to meet the power needs of ultra-low-power silicon devices such as tiny sensors that can monitor everything from a diabetic’s insulin levels to atmospheric concentrations of pollutants. Such devices could then glean the tiny amount of operating power they’d require from, say, the warmth of your skin or the vibration of your car, untethering them from batteries.

“Revolutionary new applications will require a shift from a conventional battery-centric paradigm to a new sustainable, self-powered scheme, where energy can be harvested from ambient sources,” Sankman said.

To make that possible, he’s working to transform electric power flow design, which has traditionally been a one-way street, into a two-way affair.

“To achieve all of the functions needed for ultra-low-power autonomous devices, you traditionally may need several DC-DC converters,” he said. “But by designing a converter that can route power in multiple directions you can unify all of these functions into a single converter, which opens the door for the more compact and efficient power management systems necessary for a new generation of autonomous devices.”

The three-year project will challenge the paradigm of unidirectional power flow, Sankman added, and he believes his novel approach could help establish an array of new energy-efficient systems.

“What interests me about this research project is the enormous potential for broader impacts within my research area and for society as a whole,” he said. “I also think the idea of treating power management as a multi-directional process among the power source, energy storage and load is really cool.”

Sankman is studying under Dr. Dongsheng Brian Ma, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the University’s Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, leader of the energy-efficiency research thrust within the Texas Analog Center of Excellence based at UT Dallas, and holder of the TxACE Chair Professorship and director of the Integrated System Design Lab.


Media Contact: Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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Joey Sankman

“Revolutionary new applications will require a shift from a conventional battery-centric paradigm,” says electrical engineering doctoral student Joey Sankman.

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