28 May 2019 |
Research article |
Information and Communications Technologies
Microsystems in Everyday Products
How many transistors fit on a single chip of the latest iPhone? A hundred? A thousand? A million? Billions! The number is unimaginable. Yet this is the playing field—measured in the nanometer scale—where engineers design ultra-sophisticated electromechanical and electronic microsystems that are at the core of many technological devices. Welcome to the microscopic universe of Frédéric Nabki.
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Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, Frédéric Nabki is a member of the ÉTS Communications and Microelectronic Integration Laboratory (LACIME) and co-founder of the Microtechnology and Microsystems Laboratory (Micro2).
He has both extensive and highly specialized expertise in micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), microfabrication processes, and analog, radio frequency, and mixed integrated circuits (IC). He is also focusing on integrating MEMS devices into ICs, as well as modeling MEMS devices and designing various integrated circuits for several applications, including sensors and wireless communications.
Micro-Electromechanical Systems and Microelectronics
The advent of micro-electromechanical systems in the late eighties quickly changed the world of electronics. MEMS crept into a multitude of devices ranging from air bag deployment systems to classroom projectors to video game consoles. The term electromechanical includes two basic concepts juggled by Professor Nabki every day: electronics and mechanics.
Microelectronics involves manufacturing electronic components made from semiconductor materials like silicon at the micrometric scale. This makes it possible to integrate many electronic functions on one piece of silicon. The resulting circuits are called chips or integrated circuits.
In a multitude of everyday applications, many electronic devices have enhanced functionalities using MEMS integrated with microelectronics. We are thinking here of cars, smart phones, game consoles, printers, and so on. MEMS allow a device to count our steps, or a smart phone to capture our movements. Professor Nabki is also experimenting with various assembly techniques within this micrometric universe to further miniaturize MEMS-microelectronic hybrid systems.
In addition to electronics and mechanics, Frédéric Nabki is also interested in the miniaturization of optics, specifically, in ways to integrate optical functionalities into a micromechanical structure. His leading-edge work in this area is being partly carried out with a Quebec start-up company, AEPONYX. One of the projects within this company is to replace copper wires—which slow down Internet traffic—in a multitude of applications, with optical solutions.
Transmitting Wireless Information Using Very Little Energy
Professor Nabki is also interested in the wireless world and information transmission using very little energy.
Consider all the products that monitor our physical activity like Fitbit devices or the Apple Watch. Their battery life is extremely low: about 24 hours for the Apple Watch, compared to maybe two years for a Timex watch. What explains the difference? Mostly the huge amount of energy required for wireless functionality.
With SPARK Microsystems, a start-up company incubated at Centech, Frédéric Nabki is developing an integrated circuit that sends wireless information using very low energy. This extremely promising technology has the potential to define a new generation of wireless products.
In this world where microscopic devices are constantly offering more and more features, Frédéric Nabki has great ambitions.