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CICS Assistant Professor Sunghoon “Ivan” Lee Leads Team Winning 2019 Armstrong Research Award

Sunghoon "Ivan" Lee

Advancements in microelectromechanical technology have shown tremendous potential for the biomedical field, promising a new class of miniaturized body-wearable sensors that will empower health providers to monitor and safeguard the health of aging patients and patients with chronic illnesses such as Parkinson's.

But so far, these advancements have been held back by one critical area where technology has been lagging--the batteries. Even with today's technology, batteries are still rigid, bulky, and difficult to maintain. Batteries simply can't fit into the truly miniaturized devices that are needed for these applications.

CICS Assistant Professor Sunghoon "Ivan" Lee and co-investigator Yeon Sik Noh, assistant professor at the College of Engineering, were recently selected to receive the University of Massachusetts 2019 Armstrong Fund for Science Award for their new line of research tackling this problem, "Enabling Batteryless Wearable Sensors via Intra-Body Power Transfer."

Intra-Body Power Transfer (IBPT) will enable wireless, batteryless wearable devices that can be miniaturized and ergonomically designed for placement on small parts of the human body, such as on a fingernail or inside the ear. It works by using a technique Lee and Noh call capacitive coupling, which uses the human body as a transfer medium, allowing power to be channeled from power sources--such as a smartwatch--to devices placed throughout the body.

Conceptual illustration of IBPT from "Enabling Batteryless Wearable Sensors via Intra-Body Power Transfer"

"By eliminating the form factor and maintenance bottlenecks imposed by chemical batteries, IBPT has the potential to revolutionize the way we sense the human body by providing opportunities to sense in more places, thereby increasing spatial resolution of sensing," explains Jeremy Gummeson, senior research fellow at CICS and project consultant.

Lee and Noh, along with Gummeson and Professor Rui Wang of CICS, have already demonstrated the concept by implementing a prototype consisting of a wrist-worn, battery-powered power transmitter capable of sending electromagnetic signals through the human body combined with a finger-worn, batteryless sensor that can be powered by electromagnetic signals transmitted through the skin. This prototype was designed to help develop an application that captures fine-hand movements in stroke survivors.

Lee believes monitoring the "motor behavior" of stroke survivors, a topic of research he has been investigating for the past three years, would benefit from this emerging technology because of the increased accuracy afforded by switching from current wrist-based monitors to new, miniaturized finger-based monitors.

"Upper-limb hemiparesis affects 75% of stroke survivors. Even after the initial recovery period, stroke survivors continue to be vulnerable to declining function in their affected limb due to a phenomenon known as learned non-use," Lee explains. "Our technology, if successful, can be used to monitor the performance of upper limb movements during daily activities and provide mobile-health-based interventions to maintain--and possibly improve--the motor skills recovered during the initial recovery period."

In Lee and Noh's preliminary study using the prototype, they were able to transmit enough power to their finger-worn sensor to operate a microcontroller unit that sampled data from an accelerometer and transmitted the data through Bluetooth Low Energy.

With the Armstrong funds of $40,000 for a two-year project, Lee and Noh aim to continue to develop working prototypes of the batteryless sensor, develop a software program for the sensor that is specially designed to operate on low amounts of power, and further develop their understanding of the human body as a power transfer channel.

The Armstrong Fund for Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst annually awards faculty members who are pursuing research that challenges conventional concepts and approaches ideas with innovation. The fund was founded in 2006 following a gift from John and Elizabeth Armstrong.