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The University of Michigan is home to hundreds of innovative researchers and entrepreneurs. And much of the work done on this
campus goes on to impact lives all around the world. Here are twelve of the best ideas to come from the University in the past year.
As the recent fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico
illustrated, it's slow work getting oil out
of a large body of water. But a group of
researchers at the University might have a
Working alongside two of his students,
Material Science and Engineering Prof.
Anish Tuteja has developed a method of
extracting oil from water that his research
team only half-jokingly refers to as a
Tuteja's work involves a "dip-coding"
process in which commercially available
porous materials like cloth or polyester
fabrics are covered in a thin layer of the
artificial membrane that Tuteja and his
researchers have been perfecting since
The membrane then acts as a strainer,
holding back oil while enabling water to
"It's water-loving and oil-hating at
the same time," Arun Kota, one of the
researchers on the project, said of the arti-
According to Tuteja, the idea of oil-
water separation is completely counterin-
"Take any surface in nature and if you
put water through it, oil will come too,"
Tuteja said. Nevertheless, "the idea was
there as to what we thought might work,
and the proof was really to show that it
Tuteja's membrane involves a mixture
of two elements: an oil-repellant nanopar-
ticle and a "water-loving" plastic.
"We have to mix them in the right
quantity that it can pull the water down
but push the oil up," Tuteja said.
Tuteja and his researchers searched for
that ideal balance through a months-long
process of trial and error.
According to Kota, the membrane is
now almost flawless, with recent tests
extracting 99% oil from oil-water mix-
However, the technology has yet to
tested outside of a small laboratory s
As Tuteja explained, larger-scale te
can only occur once the technology ga
To that end, Tuteja and his team p
to publish the results of their research i
"high-impact journal" and have also fi
a patent, Tuteja said.
Tuteja said he hopes the "dip-codin
process can be used to aid situations li
the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexic
As Tuteja pointed out, massive quan
ties of oil from the Gulf spill sank bene
the surface of the ocean and merged w
the water, giving the appearance of a cle
"On the surface the ocean looks cle
but underneath there's plumes and pluu
of this oil-water mixture," Tuteja sa
"Right now all they're doing is skimmi
But Kota said the new membrane c
Arun Kota (left),
ing Prof. Anish
Tuteja (center) a
Gibum Kwon (rig
e Ain fhe iborator
be easily tackle such underwater mixtures.
et- "We have excellent separation happen-
ing," Kota said.
sts - DYLAN CINTI
Ian VE H ICLE-TO-G RID
u a Automobiles serve as means of transporta-
led tion from point A to point B. But is that all
they can be used for?
g" "If you could use a car for something
ike more than just getting to work or going on
ao. a family vacation, it would be a whole dif-
nti- ferent way to think about a vehicle," Engi-
ath neering professor Jeff Stein wrote in a press
an Stein serves as project director of a team
of 10 other University professors who are
an, collaborating on a four-year mission -
nes with funding awarded from the National
?id. Science Foundation - to reinvent the way
lng we think about the automobile.
"We're trying to develop mathematical-
'an based tools that will help people be able to
design the future vehicles so that they get
good mileage, get good range, make good
use of the electricity...and try to reduce the
amount of pollution that is produced," he
Oneof Stein's research projects is a
concept called vehicle-to-grid integration.
Stein's team is looking at tapping into a
vehicle's potential to store and feed electric-
ity back into the grid even while the vehicle
sits idle in the garage.
Right now, the electrical grid - what
we plug everything from a microwave to a
laptop into - operates in an "on demand"
system. That is, the electricity utilities only
create the exact amount of energy needed
ate at the time they are being used. However,
if there are a lot of vehicles that are sitting
in garages, all with large batteries that store
electrical energy, Stein believes they could
temporarily store energy to be used at a
nd later time to power other types of electric-
ht) Stein labels unpredictable energy, like
y wind and solar energy, "intermittent ener-
h gy" because it occurs sporadically in large
spurts. Stein thinks energy created during
the these spurts could be transferred to and
stored in large car batteries to be used later,
eri. rather than simply going to waste since it
ut is not needed at that specific time. It could
then be transferred to the electrical grid to
ally power microwaves and laptops.
"The vehicles we have now provide free-
dom and meet the needs of individuals,"
Stein said in the press release. "(Hybrid and
electric vehicles) can be a completely dif-
ferent way of using a car, to be something
that is defined as being a part of the greater
good in concert with others. It has fascinat-
- CHELSEA LANGE
Ambiq Micro, a startup company founded
by University graduates and professors, has
recently gained national attention for its
work that could potentially usher in a new
era in computing.
The company's co-founders - Ross
graduates Scott Hanson, David Landman
and Philip O'Neil and Engineering profes-
sors Dennis Sylvester and David Blaauw -
have developed what they call the world's
most energy-efficient microcontroller. They
believe this new technology will complete-
ly transform the way users interact with
computers in an everyday environment.
"Microcontrollers - or MCU's - you
can think of them as a scaled down ver-
sion of the microprocessors you would find
inside your laptops," O'Neil said in a pre-
sentation about the new microcontrollers at
Rice University. "MCUs are used in many
different applications that we interact with
on a daily basis, from our cell phones to
our watches to our cars. And although they
are becoming more pervasive over time,
we believe that the next five to 10 years
is where we're really going to see them
The company's founders say that, while
current computing is on a one to one ratio
- where users interact with computers on
a personal level with a handheld device or a
laptop - the future will see computing in a
much more advanced scale, with micropro-
cessors installed in items anywhere from
the paint on our walls to the clothes on our
As part of that future, Ambiq Micro
believes there will be a need for smaller,
more energy-efficient microprocessors like
the company's microcontrollers.
The company's energy-efficient micro-
controllers will also greatly increase the
battery life of the products in which they
are used, an innovation that has not yet been
seen in the market of microprocessors.
In the initial stages of research for the
microcontroller, the team focused on very
small chips that measured one millimeter
or less, but Ambiq Micro is now focusing
on more commercially profitable markets
with designs that are more robust, Blaauw
These new microprocessors could soon
provide a low-power alternative for compa-
nies, but the chip is still in the commercial
prototype stage and in the testing phase of
Blaauw and Sylvester began the research
that eventually grew into Ambiq Micro in
2003, focusing on creating an energy-effi-
cient microcontroller that provides a new
level of power reduction for various tech-
nologies, including products used in the
medical field and by credit card companies.
They officially founded Ambiq Micro in
The idea gained momentum, Blaauw
said, in 2008 when the MIT Technology
Review did a general report on the team's
innovative low-power research with micro-
The success of the company has only
increased in the past year. The company's
innovations earned first place in the Michi-
gan Business Challenge in February, along
with a prize of $27,000 in cash grants.
Ambiq Micro also won the DFJ Mercury
Tech Transfer Investment Prize at the 2010
Rice Business Plan Competition, earning a
total of $54,000 in prize money and placing
fifth in the competition.
Although there are other microcon-
trollers that are now available to consum-
ers, Blaauw believes that Ambiq Micro
could "open up new markets" by offering
a technology that has never yet been seen.
- RACHEL BRUSSTAR
The increased threat of terrorist attacks has
led to expanded, though imperfect, secu-
rity measures everywhere from airports to
sporting arenas. But a new development in
security could provide a hidden and imme-
diate way to detect potential suicide bomb-
ers, even in the largest crowds.
During his final semester at the Univer-
sity last year, recent Engineering graduate
Ashwin Lalendran developed a system of
wireless sensors, or units, that can detect
Improvised Explosive Devices - explo-
sives often used in suicide bombings - and
transmit the data to authorities.
Lalendran worked for six months on the
project - which was funded by the Air
Force Research Lab at the Wright-Patterson
Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio - as part
of a class taught by Atmospheric, Oceanic
and Spaces Sciences Prof. Nilton Renno.
"It's an innovative solution for secu-
rity personnel to detect IEDs in a heavily
crowded environment, such as an airport,
where there is a constant flow of people,"
Lalendran said. "It's a form of standoff
detection, for when you can't physically
search every person."
Lalendran worked to create about 20
wireless units with the ability to scan for
"unusual contents in metals." The units,
which would be placed about 10 feet apart
from one another when in use, could then
process the information in real time to
detect these suspect values in metals.
The sensors are not only cost-effective,
Lalendran says, but also small enough to fit
in the palm of a hand, and therefore pos-
sible to hide within ordinary items like
traffic cones. Officials could easily hide
the units to remain undetected by would-be
The sensors could potentially play a
significant role in security forces and have
even been considered for use in military
defense. Lalendran offered the example of
placing sensors in polling stations in places
like Iraq and Afghanistan to help prevent
suicide bomb attacks.
"The IED problem is a really big issue,"
he said. "We are losing a lot of men and
women because we can't detect IEDs, and I
feel that this technology could help out with
this specific issue."
- JENNIFER DOMINGUE
Each year, developing countries around
the world receive billions of dollars in
LEFT: Workers in-
stall ballards within
traffic cones to set
up a network for
detecting lEDs in a
ment. Photo courtesy
of Ashwin Lolendron
BOTTOM: A cow-
'ion shows how an
Photo courtesy of
remittance funds-money that migrant
workers send home to their families while
partaking in jobs outside their home coun-
try. This money plays a big role in the eco-
nomic development of a country, but little is
known about how to best utilize these funds
for maximum economic growth.
Many economists even speculate that
remittances could be detrimental to a
country, because many of the families that
receive the money from migrants begin
to lose incentive to work, or that they use
the money for short-term needs rather than
long-term investments that would do more
for the development of the country.
But according to Ford School of Public
Policy Prof. Dean Yang, these remittances
can actually be used more efficiently and
yield greater advancements for the country
if migrant workers exhibit greater control
over the way the money is spent, rather than
leaving it up to their families.
To test his hypothesis, Yang embarked
on a field study in which different mem-
bers of a group of migrant workers from El
Salvador were placed under varying finan-
cial conditions. Some were offered savings
accounts that allowed for greater control
over how their families were using the
money, others were provided a joint savings
account with their families back home to
increase spending monitoring, and the last
group had no financial guidance.
The results of the study proved that
when migrants had more control over the
money they sent home, their savings greatly
increased, ultimately allowing for more
long-term investment use.
"What this reveals is the first hard, sci-
entific evidence that this idea of giving
migrants more control over how remit-
tances are used potentially can have some
kind of development impact," Yang said.
"It gives migrants more control over how
remittances are used, and to exercise that
control so that more of that money sent
home does end up getting allocated to pur-
poses and they're more likely to have the
long run development impact."
Yang says most migrant workers tend to
want their money to be spent on more long-
term investments-like schooling, health-
care and small business ventures-but that
in many situations, families use the money
for more short-termnecessitieslike grocer-
ies and household bills. Because of this, a
migrant may send less money back home,
ultimately bringing less money to the home
country and limiting that country's eco-
"Migrants certainly realize that even
though they state a preference for the
money to be used for education or small
enterprise investments, they know that they
can't really control how the money is used,"
Yang said. "They probably send less money
home in total than if they did have the abil-
ity to control how the money was used and
allocated once it arrived home."
There has been much debate over plans to
install wind turbines on the shores of Lake
Michigan. But what if those turbines were
shoved under water? Juniors Tarun Koshy
and Nicholas Williams have proposed just
that. The two want to harness the currently
unused power of Michigan lakes and rivers
by installing large-scale underwater tur-
Inspired by a Discovery Channel spe-
cial he saw as a high school freshman,
Koshy decided to research the feasibility
of extracting energy from underwater cur-
rents. The increase in investment in clean
energy and the fact that Michigan is full of
bodies of water also convinced Koshy and
Williams that underwater turbines could
prove successful in Michigan.
"Michigan's known so much for its
water," Koshy said. "Why not use what's
right in front of us?"
Not to be confused with water turbines,
underwater turbines do not require the con-
struction of dams. They work on the same
principles as wind turbines but use moving
water to turn the propellers, which can gen-
erate much more power than wind turbines.
Underwater currents produce up to 840
times the energy density of wind,according
to Hydro Green Energy, a company that is
currently developing a similar idea.
Additionally, water currents are con-
stant, unlike the sporadic nature of wind,
making them much more reliable. And they
don't present an eyesore to the communities
where they're installed. "People don't want
wind farmsanywhere close to their homes,"
A version of the underwater turbine idea
is already in production in Norway and in
the Hudson River in New York. The single
turbine in Norway produces enough energy
to fully power 37 homes, while the New
York turbine powers a supermarket and
Despite concerns that the propellers
could negatively alter ecosystems, the actu-
al impact on wildlife has been found to be
extremely low. After scientists tagged fish
in the Hudson River within a 50-mile radi-
us of the turbine, they concluded that most
were smart enough to avoid the underwater
turbine, according to a study funded by the
New York City government.
Koshy and Williams debuted their idea
at the statewide Motivate Michigan compe-
tition, in which participants proposed plans
to energize Michigan's slumping economy.
The pair took top honors and a $20,000
scholarship. Motivate Michigan liked the
idea so much that next year's competition
will ask students to develop a business plan
to implement underwater turbines in Michi-
- STEPHANIE BERLIANT
in the H. F
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