The iPhone 4 contains a gyroscope – run by what seems to be an off-the-shelf chip. The iFixit crew and Chipworks used a scanning electron microscope to take a really close look at this amazing piece of nanotechnology. A mechanical gyroscope uses a spinning rotor in the centre to maintain a reference point in 3D space: if the frame is tilted, the angular momentum of the rotor resists movement, and the gimbals allow it to tilt.
The rotor can be driven using induction, so it is contactless. The version shown has three “degrees of freedom” – it can move around any axis. But how do you make it small enough to fit inside a mobile phone?
FAIRBANKS — The University of Alaska Fairbanks closed its nanotechnology office on Wednesday, saying the venture had strayed from its intended role as a regional economic development engine.
The Office of Electronic Miniaturization, which was established in 2001, was envisioned as a hub for creating products in the emerging field of microscopic technology. But instead of producing commercially viable inventions, the OEM migrated toward basic research.
That disconnect led to its closure, UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said. She said the university stopped requesting federal earmarks for OEM three years ago when it became clear its mission had drifted.
“It fulfilled the grant requirement, but it wasn’t really what we had in mind,” Grimes said.
She said nine term-funded employees at the OEM office won’t have their contracts renewed. Wednesday, the end the fiscal year, was their last day at work.
Grimes said the OEM closure is unrelated to other budget-cutting efforts at UAF. The office was funded almost entirely by federal earmarks — about $30.2 million during its decade of operation — and didn’t use any UAF general fund money. Roughly $700,000 more in OEM funding was received from private business sources.
OEM was separate from the rest of campus, both physically and philosophically. Located in a nondescript industrial park building in South Fairbanks, it pursued economic development projects but offered no instruction.
Former Sen. Ted Stevens was a champion of the office, securing Department of Defense funds to open OEM and keep it running. OEM also worked with the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. to develop a business plan for its work.
But nanotechnology was a tough field to break into, especially since Outside competitors already had a head start in the study of ultra-tiny circuits and microchips. An early director of the office, Pramod Karulkar, expressed enthusiasm for the program’s potential in a 2004 UAF press release while admitting that “this endeavor is unusual for Alaska and appears risky.”
“It was a challenge from the start, because there were always competitors in this field, and we were kind of starting from ground zero,” Grimes said.
An attempt in the past few years to steer research toward Arctic applications of nanotechnology didn’t happen quickly enough to save OEM. Grimes said it’s still undetermined what will happen to the building or the equipment that it contains.
OEM Research Professor Shiva Hullavarad said the office needed more time to achieve its potential. Research and development always takes time to realize benefits, he said.
“The farmer plants some seeds and gets a harvest,” Hullavarad said. “It’s the same thing here.”
Hullavarad, whose wife, Nilima, also worked at OEM, said the office had many accomplishments. He said OEM work led to two patents, several copyrights and 30 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Eventually, he said economic development would have followed by attracting innovators and entrepreneurs to Fairbanks to work with OEM’s staff.
Grimes said new funding sources could allow some of the OEM work to continue elsewhere on campus, and Hullavarad said he’s pursuing several plans to find that money. Hullavarad said his family wants to remain in Fairbanks, and he’s optimistic he’ll find a way to let some of their nanotechnology work to carry on.
“It’s a matter of keeping that faith,” Hullavarad said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.