PhD students win 2016 Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship

May 2016

EE PhD candidates Spyridon Baltsavias and Junyi Wang have been selected as one of eight winning teams in the 2016 Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship.

Their proposal "Advanced Ultrasound Sensing in the Modern Wireless World: a Miniaturized Ultrasound Transducer System for Biomedical Applications" was reviewed by Qualcomm Research's top engineers. Spyridon and Junyi were then invited to present to a panel of executive judges. Winning students receive a one year fellowship and are mentored by Qualcomm engineers to help facilitate the success of the proposed research.

Congratulations to Spyridon, Junyi, and their advisors, Professors Amin Arbabian and Butrus T. Khuri-Yakub. A description of their winning proposal follows:

 Ultrasound is an invaluable technology that is widely used today in hospitals as an imaging and diagnostic tool. An example ultrasound system is the ultrasonic endoscope, which doctors use to probe the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of a patient and diagnose a variety of diseases and cancers affecting hundreds of thousands of people each year. Existing systems however have several limitations: they tend to be bulky and power-hungry, while procedures are expensive, and even traumatic for patients.

What if we could take the technology from the stationary, bulky form factor, and shrink it down to a disposable pill that can be swallowed at the convenience of the patient? This idea resulted in our proposal for the Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship, where we introduced our miniature ultrasonic ingestible pill, to be demonstrated as a promising alternative to the GI endoscopic procedure. We envision our system to operate as follows: after the pill is swallowed by a patient, it travels through the intestinal system. By emitting and receiving ultrasound waves, ultrasonic "cameras" around the pill take images of the walls of the tract, as well as deeper layers and even surrounding organs. Then the captured images are wirelessly transmitted to a device worn by the patient, such as a smartphone, and can be used by medical experts for diagnosis and screening for bleeding, cancerous tissue, and other diseases.

Although ambitious, we believe our idea to be feasible through the combination of advanced electronics and advanced imaging techniques. Using flexible capacitive micromachined ultrasonic transducers (CMUTs) developed by Professor Butrus T. Khuri-Yakub's research group, and an application-specific-integrated-circuit (ASIC) with RF wireless capabilities, jointly being designed by Prof. Amin Arbabian's and Prof. Khuri-Yakub's groups, we aim to bring this project to fruition and develop a platform that could in the future enable a vast array of exciting new biomedical and consumer applications on and inside the human body.