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  Michigan snags needed fab capacity with new WSU lab

Graduate students at work in the WSU clean room.

Mar 6, 2003 - The state's fabrication capacity gets a boost when auto supplier Delphi Corp. and Wayne State University open a new 4,000-square-foot clean room to develop advanced sensor devices used in the biomedical, aerospace, national defense and automotive industries.

Troy-based Delphi donated about $7.1 million worth of equipment to the university to be used in the Class 100 and Class 10 clean rooms, laboratories designed for work requiring a highly controlled environment. A Class 10 room is capable of maintaining less than 10 particles one-tenth of a micron in size or larger from a cubic foot of air over one minute of time. The Class 100 room has less than 100 particles three-tenths of a micron or larger.

"If you think of a device where one speck of dust might cover a whole device, it has to be ultra-clean," said Gregory Auner, director of the Smart Sensor Integrated Microsystems laboratory at Wayne State University.

The new clean room complex, which WSU intends to make available to any company in need of such a facility, opens March 18.

The addition of the clean room coupled with five existing rooms will form the complex advanced microsystems clean room laboratory with 5,000 square feet of clean rooms and additional laboratory space of 6,000 square feet. And the common theme uniting the laboratory is MEMS, Auner said.

Microelectromechanical devices -- or MEMS -- are often based on silicon technology complete with mechanical parts such as pumps, levers, mirrors and fluidic channels to create powerful and tiny machines and sensors.

"It is a core set of practices and core technologies that adapt to a lot of different applications," he said.

Applications to be used in the biomedical, automotive, aerospace fields and more. For example, current research includes constructing microarrays that allow a direct ultrasonic image and carry data to different tissues, both cancerous and non-cancerous.

"We're developing integrated sensor systems for diagnostics where surgeons differentiate between the necrotic and viable tissues," Auner said. "These will be developed at some point to be used in fetal surgery."

About 80 percent of medical field related research is done in conjunction with the Kresge Eye Institute at Wayne State. Neural implants and neurosurgery are topics being explored at the laboratories. Breast cancer researchers also are working on making the next generation of microsystems for breast cancer detection.

Another area of work surrounds particle-detecting prototypes - prototypes under development that will measure airborne contaminants and allow the user to see results in real time. The practical application could easily have an impact on national health workers who would scan for airborne viruses or bacteria.

The laboratories are funded by a variety of grants and donations, including $1.9 million from NASA; $2.6 million over four years from the National Institutes of Health, a two-year grant of $5 million from the National Science Foundation with $2.5 million coming soon from the Department of Defense to study ways to test for E. coli and other bacteria and contaminants in the water supply, Auner said.

The partnership came about as Delphi considered a plan to more effectively utilize MEMS and other microsystems research capabilities.

"We wanted access to a microelectronics laboratory and we didn't feel we had the space or the resources to support it properly in Delphi," said Dr. Andrew Brown, director of Engineering at Delphi Automotive. "We looked for an approach that would allow us to still be able to use the significant capabilities in a state-of-the-art microelectronics laboratory."

In June 2001 Delphi was considering a partnership with other Michigan universities, including Oakland, Michigan State, the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit Mercy.

Wayne State most closely matched what the company was looking for, based on the university's existing research capabilities and because of the dedication of the educators, Brown said.

"That isn't to say the other universities were bad, they just didn't meet all of our requirements," Brown said. "We still maintain a relationship with the University of Michigan where we do research."

And with the upgraded laboratories, companies in several fields across the state will benefit, Brown said. "That's the primary intent in using this laboratory," he said. "The laboratory will be available to industries throughout southeast Michigan. All interested companies will have access to do work at Wayne State." The university is setting up a consortium of companies that have varied, but similar interests in the fields of microelectronic and MEMS research. The companies that join the consortium will contract with Wayne State or provide their own researchers who would work inside the university. "It goes beyond Delphi -- the Ford Motor Co, the Visteon, TRW, GM - any company having research needs in microelectronics could utilize this facility," Brown said. "The idea here is there is strength in leveraging your own capabilities to share non-competitive knowledge.

He points to improvements in the automotive field in recent years as an example of the benefits of research the laboratory will provide. "Look at the vehicle you drive today," Brown said. "There is any number of sensors and actuators and computer devices that are only possible as the result of microelectronics. The next evolution will be to apply microelectronics in biomedical applications to monitor the ongoing health and condition of each and every one of us.

"The fundamental physics and chemistry belongs to everybody. It's what you do with the results of the knowledge where you compete. It's really in all of our best interests."

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