Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Microwave Technologies for Medical Applications

Microwave technology currently has relatively limited uses in medical applications such as MRI and Telemetry systems with RFID starting to find some uses, but I can think of many others. However, there seems to be a resurgence in some new medical research activities that could change that. Our Dec. issue feature story will describe research being done by Duke University to use microwaves to mildly heat tumors so they respond better to other treatments. New modeling software has enabled better results to eliminate hot spots so that this technique shows promise now.

And now UMass has just released news that they are working on a portable breast cancer screening system that uses low power microwaves for imaging. The idea is to bring modern breast cancer screening to Third World countries without the danger, high cost and access problems of X-ray based machines. This new technique would take advantage of the fact that normal breast tissue and cancer cells have different electrical properties. These differences can be identified and measured using an array of tiny transmitters and external sensors embedded in the walls of a cylinder that fits comfortably around the breast.

It should be interesting to follow these technologies as the develop. Let us know if you can come up with other contributions of microwave technology to the medical field.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Tunable Capacitor Technology for Mobile-TV

Speaking of mobile-TV (see David's entry below), Peregrine Semiconductor has developed a new digitally tunable capacitor (DTC) technology using their UltraCMOS process. Mobile-TV antennas must be able to receive signals efficiently over the frequency range of 470 to 862 MHz, so using a traditional passive internal antenna can result in a VSWR of 6:1 across the band causing reduced sensitivity. But using a DTC to change the antenna match across the band can maintain a VSWR of better than 2:1. In addition, this DTC technology can withstand the GSM transmitted power levels without affecting the mobile-TV signal integrity.

The initial design is for 5 bits of resolution or 32 tuning states and a tuning ratio of close to 5:1 with a Q factor of 40. Because it is designed using the UltraCMOS process, there is flexibility to scale the power handling capability, integrate digital and analog functions as well as other RF active/passive circuitry. This gives very good flexibility and new circuits can be designed quickly to get to market ahead of the competition.

I see several new and exciting tunable technologies coming in the near future and will share them as they are released. Microwave Journal has an exclusive first look into the Peregrine technology in our Nov issue.

A Chief Technology Officer for the new Administration

This morning was my first time hearing about President-elect Obama's plan to create a position of chief technology officer within his administration, an idea that was actually floated one year ago by Obama - the candidate. The CTO's mandate would be to implement various technologies to support more transparent govenment including open meetings, live webcasts of those meetings, and use blogging software, wikis and open comments to communicate policies with Americans.

Second, Obama has several other policies in this area that should benefit the engineering community as a whole . The president-elect is calling for more aggressive government support of broadband access. Specifically, he will seek subsidies for phone carriers offering both regular phone service and Internet broadband to rural areas. To date, carriers offering merely phone service have been able to claim subsidies from the so-called Universal Service Fund, giving them little incentive to roll out out broadband. Currently the United States is 14th in the world with regard to broadband internet access. Such a roll-out would improve rural internet access and provide a welcome economic boost to microwave component manfacturers.

Obama’s is also calling for a review of the decision by the Federal Communications Commission to open the wireless spectrum for competition. Specifically, Obama is strongly considering advocating that spectrum on the 700 MHz band be opened so that third parties can lease it on a wholesale basis. This will ensure winners of a pending auction for the spectrum don’t just sit on the spectrum and not use it, a move designed to avoid other entrants from competing with them. During the campaign, Obama appeared ready to support the right of service providers to interconnect with a licensee’s wireless network. Google is expected to bid on the wireless spectrum.

Innovations like and are building new tools to monitor government — to track influence, identify corruption, etc. These tools have been hampered by hard to access government data. Obama wants to make the raw data available: “So think about all the value that gets added to the free weather data given away by the government. This is the same idea in the context of data to make government more transparent, and less corrupt.”