University research turns small gains into big impact

For an electrical engineer, with a self-confessed love of liking a challenge, there wasn’t anything more challenging for Dr. Arezoo Emadi than creating something from nothing.

It was such an opportunity at the University of Windsor, where she would not only get to pursue her passion for bio-medical research but build the E-minds research centre from the ground up, that lured Emadi from Manitoba.

“I didn’t feel going to an already established program would be a better fit,” said Emadi, who is the Director of the Electrical Micro and Nano Devices and Sensors Research Centre (E-minds).

“If the potential and opportunity is there to initiate something new I feel that was more important. In my field (bio-med research) they (university) were trying to establish a program and the support was there.

“I love a challenge.”

It’s a big challenge to create small devices capable of making life-changing impacts.
With the help of her team of 15 graduate and undergraduate researchers at the Faculty of Engineering, Emadi is overseeing work on sensors aimed at detecting breast cancer earlier, helping doctors monitor patients’ vital signs more easily and creating more portable devices.

These micro-machined sensors will help physicians detect health issues earlier and create more complete pictures of treatment plans that will help with patient outcomes and ultimately reduce healthcare costs.

“We’re working on wearable electronics, so for instance a patient with cardio vascular disease can wear it and be comfortable and not have all the wires attached to them or have to go to the hospital,” said Emadi, who was born in Iran, grew up in Sweden and earned her PhD in electrical engineering at the University of Manitoba.

“We’ll provide doctors with the exact information and patient history they’re looking for.”
Emadi said the ability of sensors to detect things not visible to the eye is one of the strengths of the tiny probes. Early detection of diseases greatly enhances the survival rates of patients.

“We’re using proven and safe technology in ultrasound,” Emadi said.

The benefits of micro-machining such small sensors are the ease of use of smaller devices, image resolution, consistency of quality and the reduced costs.

“CAT scans and MRI machines aren’t portable, but we’re working on creating sensors for devices doctors can use in their office,” Emadi said. “If they were moving to a rural area to practice, they’d be able to carry it in their suitcase.”

The proliferation of such devices will also greatly reduce wait times and the costs of having to access big, expensive equipment.

However, the E-mind program isn’t just focused on the bio-medical field. The technology of Nano devices is also drawing much interest from other industries.

“One of the positive challenges we’ve faced I call is bridging the gap,” Emadi said. “It’s getting the information out that what we’re doing reaches across all faculties and many sectors.”

Emadi said that also means reaching out to other universities and St. Clair College for partnerships.

“I hope to have some students from St. Clair involved, hopefully in September,” said Emadi, who also worked for the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg.

“Students from their chemistry lab and bio med lab programs would be good matches. I want more hands on-experience in the program.”

The centre is already well down that path with the partnerships its developing with industry and agriculture locally.

A prototype test system is being developed for use in the greenhouse industry that will detect and trace the compounds released in the environment.

Emadi said the ultrasound sensors are also useful in manufacturing for detecting flaws in solids.

Other projects involve developing micro mirrors to broaden the vision of lidar technology being used in automobiles and sensors for use by police in roadside testing.

One particularly creative project in the security field is the creation of a sensor that will unlock your door based on it reading your heart’s rhythm.

“We have to have outcomes in mind,” Emadi said.

“We want to commercialize these projects to benefit people, medical applications and companies. Coming from industry has helped me with that vision.”

Source: The Windsor Star