Safer alternative to X-rays

A Boise State University engineering professor is partnering with an Austin, Texas-based company to develop a miniaturized device to generate high-frequency electromagnetic waves.

The device could someday help provide a safer alternative to X-rays or be used as part of new secure communications systems.

Jim Browning, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Boise State, is working with Stellar Micro Devices in Texas with $100,000 in start-up funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Browning is performing computer modelling of the device as part of the project’s six-month first phase. He said he is hopeful further phases of the project will be approved that will provide significantly more funding.

The tiny device, called a Micro Vacuum Backward Wave Oscillator, would be capable of generating electromagnetic waves at a frequency of more than 100 GHz. For comparison, cell phones operate at frequencies around 1GHz while FM radios operate around 100 MHz.

The innovative new device might someday be used as the source to analyze material properties, provide satellite-to-satellite communication, or provide medical imaging in place of X-rays. While there are already systems that generate these very high frequency waves, most are either heavy and bulky or have a limited frequency range. The development of a miniaturized system with a range of wave frequencies is of great interest and still very much in the experimental stage, said Browning.

“This is a new research area for Boise State, and it should provide some to new opportunities for our students to both engage in research and to build relationships and contacts with companies and organizations who work in this field,” he said.

Browning joined Boise State’s College of Engineering in 2006 after spending more than 15 years working in industry, including seven years at Micron Technology.