Texas Tech’s Tiny Rheometer Wins Big in Competition

Microelectromechanical device could make medical testing a little less painful.

For a third straight year, Texas Tech University engineering students emerged victorious in this year’s design contest for novel microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), held at Sandia National Laboratories. Teams from Texas Tech have been winners in the competition in six of the last eight years.

The winning entry is a microscale rheometer that is 1.2 millimeters by 2 millimeters, and able to measure the behavior of thin quantities of liquid, like the synovial fluid in knee joints. This method requires a much smaller sample compared to the standard tool.

“It is much easier and, usually, less painful to obtain small quantities of bodily fluids from patients,” the students wrote in the project description.

The Texas Tech MEMS group was led by Tim Dallas, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and teamed up with Gordon Christopher, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Contributors include electrical and computer engineering students Gautham Ramachandran and Ashwin Vijayasai, and mechanical engineering student Zhenhuan Zhang.

“The interdisciplinary team was crucial to producing a device with important applications,” Dallas said.

Carnegie Mellon University was winner of the educational MEMS for a second year in a row. Other contest participants include the universities of Oklahoma and Utah, Arizona State University, Central New Mexico Community College, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and the Air Force Institute of Technology. Also participating were several universities from Mexico: Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional of Mexico City, Universidad de Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez, Universidad de Guadalajara, Universidad de Guanajuato and Universidad Veracruzana.

The two winning teams will see their designs birthed in Sandia’s microfabrication facility, one of the most advanced in the world.

The contest is open to institutional members of the Sandia-led MEMS University Alliance program, part of Sandia’s outreach to universities to improve engineering education. It provides an arena for the nation’s student engineers to hone their skills in designing and using microdevices. Such devices are used to probe biological cells, arrange and operate components of telecommunications and high-tech machinery and operate many home devices and strengthen national security.

The entire contest process takes almost nine months. It starts with students developing ideas for a device, followed by creation of an accurate computer model of a design that might work, analysis of the design and, finally, design submission. Sandia’s MEMS experts and university professors review the design and determine the winners.

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CONTACT: Tim Dallas, associate professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3533 ext. 255 ortim.dallas@ttu.edu.