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When small is big

Microcomponents are used everywhere - in medical equipment and other consumer products.
Microcomponents are used everywhere - in medical equipment and other consumer products.
Published Jul 26, 2010

Microcomponents are used everywhere – in fuel cells, medical equipment and consumer products like mobile phones and game consoles. Advances in research have led to dramatically lower manufacturing costs, opening new markets for the tiny devices.

“Microtechnology research has no value in itself,” explains Wouter van der Wijngaart, Professor of Microsystem Technology at EE. “The components have to be used in a product.” As much as 70 per cent of the Lab’s microtechnology research is conducted in collaboration with the private sector.

InTopSens, one of several EU-sponsored research consortia that Wouter van der Wijngaart is associated with, is developing a highly integrated optical sensor for point-of-care, label-free identification of sepsis bacteria strains and their levels of antibiotic resistance.

Professor Wouter van der Wijngaart.
Professor Wouter van der Wijngaart.

Sepsis is a serious medical condition characterized by an infection-induced, whole-body inflammatory state. It can lead to septic shock and even death – every hour’s delay in administering appropriate therapy involves a 7 percent rise in mortality. Sepsis claims around 146,000 lives per year in the EU alone. A diagnostic platform for quick identification of infectious microorganisms and their antibiotic resistance is a research priority.

“Such a platform would facilitate prescription of the right antimicrobial treatment,” says Wouter van der Wijngaart. “Miniaturisation and integration of diagnostic tools would allow us to help the patients faster and at lower cost. Benefits in terms of combating multiresistent bacteria are also expected.”

The Microsystem Technology Lab collaborates with other universities in Sweden and around the world on a variety of research projects.

“We look for ways to reduce the cost of manufacturing microcomponents,” says Wouter van der Wijngaart. “Tenfold cost reductions, which would open markets presently closed to such components, should be possible in some cases.”

Another EU-sponsored research consortium, Q2M, which is coordinated by Wouter van der Wijngaart, focuses on the development of new fabrication methods. The methods developed thus far have successfully been tested in connection with four types of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS): micromirror systems for eye-related medical diagnostics and therapeutics, low-cost microvalves for regulating the flow of liquids and gases, integrated microswitches for use in wireless communication systems and atomic force microscopy tips.

More information, contact Wouter van der Wijngaart, 08-790 6613 wouter@ee.kth.se.