IEEE Medal Recipients Paved the Way for MEMS and 3G Wireless

Their work impacted a number of areas, including health care and wireless Internet

4 July 2016

IEEE presented medals last month to two engineers whose innovations have contributed to medical devices, wireless communications, and other areas. The annual awards are presented for contributions or leadership in IEEE fields of interest. The two men were honored at the IEEE Honors Ceremony, held 18 June at Gotham Hall, in New York City.

IEEE Member Masayoshi Esashi, professor of electrical engineering at Tohoku University, in Sendai, Japan, received the 2016 IEEE Jun-ichi Nishizawa Medal. He was recognized “for pioneering contributions to micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), and their uses in automobiles, cellular phones, industrial equipment, and medical devices.”

Esashi has been pioneering MEMS technology for more than 40 years, developing and bringing to market the tiny sensors and actuators that provide advanced functions in today’s cars, cellphones, industrial equipment, and medical devices.

His key contributions to biomedical microsensors began in the 1970s, when his work on an ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET) led to the development of medical catheters. During the 1980s, he developed MEMS and integrated circuit devices including a servo-type accelerometer for measuring earthquakes, a networked tactile sensor for robots, and an integrated capacitive pressure sensor that was commercialized by Toyoda Machine Works (now JTEKT, in Tokyo).

He developed a microfluidic system in the 1990s that consisted of microchannels, flow sensors, valves, and pumps on a silicon wafer and provided the foundation for today’s lab-on-a-chip technologies. His ion-reactive etcher enabled the fabrication of deep trenches in silicon, critical to the commercialization of inertial sensors now used in millions of automobiles.

He established Tohoku University’s Micro System Integration Center, where companies work together to advance MEMS technologies.

IEEE Fellow Roberto Padovani, executive vice president and research fellow at Qualcomm Technologies, received the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal. He was cited “for innovations enabling efficient, wideband, wireless access to the Internet, that is central to all third-generation cellular networks.”

The 3G cellular technology enabled by Padovani’s vision and leadership is transforming lives around the world by supporting voice and wireless Internet access via mobile devices to more than 3 billion people.

He played a key role in developing and commercializing code-division-multiple-access (CDMA) technology during the 1980s and 1990s to substantially increase circuit-switched voice capacity and enable efficient high-data-rate packet-switched communications. His work has formed the basis for all 3G cellular systems and also influenced long-term evolution (LTE) of fourth-generation wireless systems.

Padovani later adapted CDMA technology, originally developed for voice services, to support data services. He developed power control strategies and other innovations in the late 1990s for more efficient Internet data transfer, resulting in Qualcomm’s high-data-rate technology. HDR could transmit graphic files 100 times faster than ever before, even without a high-speed Internet connection. Slow to be accepted by operators who were primarily concerned with voice capacity, the demand for HDR communications grew as mobile phones began to support e-mail and Internet services. HDR evolved into the 1X EVDO system, which paved the way for high-speed data services on 3G systems.

The availability of packet-switched Internet access made possible by Padovani’s innovations has impacted business, safety, entertainment, navigation, social networking, education, and health care.

Read about the other pioneers who received IEEE’s top awards this year.

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