Texas Tech University

Research Associate Earns National Innovation Award

George Watson

June 7, 2017

Shelby Lacouture

The award is for Shelby Lacouture's work developing the technology for an imaging system for electric currents and magnetic fields.

Shelby Lacouture
Shelby Lacouture

To measure the magnitude of the flow of an electric current, the connection of the current must be broken to insert an ammeter. It is a process that can be time consuming.

But Shelby Lacouture, a researcher at Texas Tech University, may have come up with a solution that would allow for the construction of an image of an electric current similar to how thermal imaging works. It could result in very broad applications across numerous sciences, such as examining the current flow in circuit boards, wiring or large semiconductor devices.

So applicable is the technology and the innovation from it that Lacouture has been recognized with one of the top innovation awards in the country.

Lacouture, a senior research associate in the Center for Pulsed Power and Power Electronics research center within the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas Tech, earned the 2017 National Innovation Award for his work, "Electric Current and Magnetic Field Imaging System."

The TechConnect Innovation Awards select the top early-stage innovations from around the world through a review process with rankings based on the potential positive impact the submitted technology will have on a specific sector of the industry.

"Winning the National Innovation Award, while quite an honor in and of itself, also has garnered interest in the technology from several sources," Lacouture said. "It is my sincere hope that this interest will lead to help in developing a more advanced prototype and marketing the technology."

Lacouture, along with Texas Tech Electrical and Computer Engineering colleagues Stephen Bayne, a professor and associate chair for graduate studies, and Argenis Bilbao, a research assistant professor, have formed a startup company called Energetrix Engineering, LLC, where the technology is licensed. He also presented the technology and received his award at the TechConnect National Innovation Summit in May in Washington, D.C.

"The TechConnect conference was a great experience," Lacouture said. "I met quite a few researchers working on cutting-edge technologies, and there was a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas with several of these scientists."

Lacouture said the inspiration for developing electric current imaging technology came from his doctoral work with wide-band gap-power semiconductor devices. He theorized the use of a two-dimensional array of three-dimensional vector magnetometers to record the full-vector magnetic field in a plane, using the results to reconstruct an image of electric current flowing into a device or circuit in close proximity to the magnometer array.

He said the idea is similar to a thermal camera, where an image of the temperature gradients of an object or objects is constructed in a meaningful way. With this system, scientists would have the ability to measure the complete three-dimensional vector magnetic field in a plane as well.

"I am very pleased to see Shelby Lacouture win this prestigious award," said Michael Giesselmann, chairman of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "His invention is very innovative, broadly applicable and was superbly prototyped in both hardware and software."

For more information on the TechConnect National Innovation Awards, visit its website.

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