Samueli School Professors Honored at UC Irvine Innovations Award Ceremony

Recognized for their significant contributions to the university as inventors

January 19, 2006 - Four Samueli School engineering professors were recently honored at the UC Irvine Innovations ceremony, held by the Office of Technology Alliances and the 40th Anniversary Committee, in recognition of their significant contributions to the university as inventors and creators.  The recipients included biomedical engineering team Fan-Gang Zeng, G.P. Li, and Mark Bachman, as well as individual recipient, Keyue M. Smedley, professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

The top UC Irvine innovators received these awards based on the significance, novelty, and creativity of their technologies.

Fan-Gang Zeng, professor of biomedical engineering and research director of the department of otolaryngology, along with G.P. Li, professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Integrated Nanosystems Research Facility (INRF), and Mark Bachman, associate adjunct professor of biomedical engineering and associate director of the INRF, were recognized for their research with “Cochlear Implants and Apparatus/Methods for Improving Audio Signals by Use of Frequency- Amplitude Modulation-Encoding (FAME) Strategies.”

A cochlear implant (CI) is a tiny bionic ear that takes sound and converts it to electrical signals, and is the only implantable device that can restore hearing to a completely deaf individual.

Zeng, Li, and Bachman are working on several different projects within this research, including how to improve the sound quality on current cochlear implant models by working to remove peripheral background noise.

“We are working to remove the extraneous noise and produce an improved clean, clear sound for implant-wearers. Their current state can be described by the ‘cocktail party’ analogy, where the wearer is only able to understand sounds up close, spoken at a louder level, and not able to clearly decipher background noise.  Otherwise, they must resort to lip-reading,” Bachman said.

Cochlear implant patients are also not able to understand the combined sounds found in music – another advancement their research team is tackling.

Bachman also said that these improvements will help cochlear implant users to better understand Asian and African languages, where the delivered pitch is imperative to comprehending the meaning of a word.

Zeng is also working on re-designing the electronic aspect of the implants, with the use of the same chip found in common electronics items, such as cell phones.  This technological advancement could help make cochlear implants a more affordable option for everyone, especially those in developing countries.

“A good hearing aid typically costs about $2,000, whereas a cochlear implant is approximately $20,000 per ear.  Our team is working to decrease that cost by calculating new algorithms to take a ‘general purpose’ chip, and make it available for implant use,” said Zeng.

He said they are currently negotiating with three to four firms, and foresee this advancement becoming commercialized within the next couple of years.

Finally, this biomedical engineering team is working to eliminate the bulky “speech processor,” a small device that currently has to be worn by the implant user.

“Right now the implant user has to wear the equivalent of a small I-pod.  We’re working to dramatically improve the size of the processor to that of a dime.  It would be able to fit inside the implant, eliminating the need for an additional device,” Bachman said.

Keyue M. Smedley, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the Power Electronics Lab, is an individual recipient of another innovations award for her advancements and research in “One-Cycle Controlled (OCC) Switching Circuit,” a power-conversion technique that can be applied to any switched variables.

Smedley and her team are applying this OCC principal to building more efficient power converters that draw clean sinusoidal current from the alternating current (ac) mains.  Specifically, they are researching analog circuits for fast, precise, and robust control of power converters for generation, distribution, use, quality, and hi-fi audio amplification.

The OCC switching circuit effectively rejects power source perturbations, automatically corrects switching errors, and performs nonlinear computations all in one switching cycle.

“Our controller accepts direct currents (dc), producing alternating currents (ac), which makes it more widely applicable for wind, solar, fuel cell, and wave power generation,” she explained.

Their controllers can also be utilized for harmonic (noise) cancellation, helping to improve the power quality in power line transmission.

“When people refer to ‘bad’ power quality, much of the time they are describing the extraneous spikes or ‘noise’ damaging the power equipment.  Our controller is able to ‘clean out’ that type of noise,” she said.

This same controller also works with VAR, which supports power voltage, ensuring the stability of a power system.  This ultimately helps to prevent power crashes and blackouts in the electric grid.     

Direct benefits of her OCC research include improved electrical-grid stability and reliability, alternative energy adoption, a reduction of industry operating losses, and the conservation of electric energy.

Smedley’s technology has resulted in two Orange County companies; One-Cycle Control, Inc. produces standardized controllers ("OCC inside”) for three-phase AC to DC, DC to AC, "noise cancellation" for power, VAR enabling improved efficiency, and reliability, as well as reduced size and cost.

Powerphysics, Inc. produces “One-Cycle Sound®” audio amplifiers with high efficiency, small size, and unmatched sound for the professional market.

Overall, Smedley’s research can be applied to computer power supplies, communication equipment, wireless communications, class-D amplifiers for homes and theatres, aviation electronics, space electronics, motor drives, alternative energy converters, and space power.

“The goal of my research is to achieve advancements in power electronics that deliver wide-impact to the generation, distribution, and use of power, which forms the basis of modern human society. I receive great enjoyment from my research, and am honored to receive recognition from the University for my contributions to this exciting field,” she said.

Zeng, Li, Bachman, and Smedley were four of 16 honored at the ceremony, where innovation awards were given in areas such as faculty entrepreneurship, start-up company innovation, and industry partnerships that generated the highest levels of revenue for research and technology licensing.

The Innovations Awards 2005 Advisory Committee included:

James McGaugh, School of Biological Sciences
Sherwood Rowland, School of Physical Science
Doug Wallace, School of Medicine
Ramesh Jain, School of Information and Computer Sciences
Scott Samuelsen, School of Engineering


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