Shorya Awtar, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and his post-doctoral research associate Mohammad Olfatnia have won the 2013 R&D 100 Award, otherwise known as the “Oscar of Innovation,” for the design and development of high performance electrostatic micro-actuators.
The R&D 100 Award, which is sponsored by the R&D Magazine, reflects the 100 top technological innovations of the year over a wide range of applications. The award holds notable prestige, as it has recognized past technologies that have since become household names. Some of these include the halogen lamp, the fax machine, HDTV, the Nicoderm patch, and the anticancer drug called Taxol, according to the Award’s website.
Awtar’s research has led to novel electrostatic comb-drive micro-actuators that provide large stroke while maintaining small footprint and actuation effort. Traditional electrostatic comb-drive actuators, although easy to fabricate and integrate within Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (also known as MEMS), suffer from limited stroke and force because of sideways snap-in instability. On the other hand, electromagnetic and piezoelectric actuators provide better actuation performance but are considerably more challenging to fabricate and integrate in MEMS devices. The R&D 100 award recognizes Awtar’s inventions for overcoming these tradeoffs and providing the best of both worlds, in terms of actuation performance and ease of MEMS fabrication and integration.
Awtar has employed fundamentally new flexure guidance mechanisms to mitigate sideways instability in electrostatic comb-drive actuators, enabling up to five times greater actuation stroke compared to the state of the art in electrostatic actuators. This significant improvement is achieved while maintaining small device foot-print and actuation effort as well as ease of fabrication. These actuation advances serve as potential enablers in applications such as micro-switches for consumer products, optical switches in the networking industry, probe-based data storage, micro-scale energy harvesting, and high speed imaging.
Awtar currently serves as the director of the Precision Systems Design Lab, which focusses on research and innovation in the areas of medical devices, high precision equipment for manufacturing and metrology, micro and macro scale actuators, and flexure mechanism design methodology.