Georgia Tech Research Horizons
Winter 2004


Reseach Notes
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Protecting Big Birds
GTRI engineers test new flare decoys on military aircraft.

With the increasing threat of enemy attack on military aircraft by heat-seeking missiles, engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) are testing new defensive countermeasures called decoy flares, which confuse the weapons’ tracking systems.
U.S. Air Force Photo by Master Sgt. Rogert Hargreaves Jr.

A British C-130J launches flare countermeasures prior to landing at the reopened military runway at Baghdad International Airport on July 1, 2003.

Because these missiles vary in their schemes for rejecting decoys, researchers are trying to develop a one-size-fits-all flare pattern. They are running thousands of computer simulations to examine as many flare pattern combinations as possible. Then they test the best ones in the field.

In summer 2003, the researchers tested decoy flare patterns on military aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida as part of their project for the U.S. Air Mobility Command and the Air National Guard. Field tests are key to tailoring the flare pattern to individual aircraft and determining the relative success rate between different patterns, researchers explain.

In these tests, researchers use real flares and real planes, but captive missiles in seeker test vans, which behave as though the missiles were in flight. If the missile seeker transfers its track from the aircraft to the decoy, then the flare pattern is considered a success.

At Eglin, GTRI researchers evaluated flares on four large transport aircraft: the C-5, C-17, C-130 and MH-53. This followed a field test in May 2003 in Yuma, Ariz., which evaluated new flares for the A-10, F-15 and F-16 fighter planes.

Although GTRI has been developing countermeasures for many years, the war on terrorism has accelerated efforts.

“We’re working at a heavy, steady pace – building on the progress we make from each test,” says project director Charles Carstensen, a senior research scientist in GTRI’s Electro-Optics, Environment and Materials Laboratory. “Flares are part of our country’s overall requirement to be prepared to fight. If we’re ready to fight, then there’s less likelihood we’ll need to.”

Made of magnesium, decoy flares confuse a missile’s tracking system by burning white-hot when dispensed. They can defend military aircraft against man-portable air defense missile systems (MANPADS), which use infrared sensors to detect jet engine exhaust. An estimated 500,000 MANPADS exist, posing particular danger to the large aircraft that refuel fighter planes and transport troops, such as the C-5 and the C-17. These aircraft are attractive targets for MANPADS because of their large size and slower speeds.

“MANPADS have been around for three decades, but they’ve become a bigger threat in recent years because of their increasing sophistication and relative ease of use,” Carstensen says. He estimates that MANPADS represent 65 to 70 percent of the United States’ air defense problems.

In addition to flares, GTRI also has expertise in directional infrared countermeasure systems (DIRCM), which are jamming systems that use laser beams to inject a signal into the tracking system of an incoming missile, causing it to fly away from the aircraft.

“The beauty of being a research institute is providing independent assessments on different types of countermeasures. We don’t have an agenda at GTRI,” Carstensen adds. “We evaluate what is the best that can be done with each system. Our bottom line is to protect the air crew.”

T.J. Becker

For more information, contact Charles Carstensen at 404-894-0134 or charles.carstensen@gtri.gatech.edu.


Carbon Copy
GTRI researchers are developing manufacturing technology to produce electrical devices from carbon nanotubes.

First discovered in 1991, carbon nanotubes have remained largely a laboratory curiosity. Yet researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute are out to change that by producing carbon nanotube-based devices for commercial applications.

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are a hexagonal network of carbon atoms rolled to form a seamless cylinder – a sort of “chicken wire” lattice of graphite. “This material has tremendous electrical, thermal and structural properties, however, few products utilizing
photo by Gary Meek

GTRI researcher Jud Ready is developing a carbon nanotube-based electrochemical double-layer capacitor. Such supercapacitors would provide more power, increased energy density and longer life than traditional batteries and capacitors that store electrical energy.

CNTs have hit the commercial market,” says Jud Ready, a research engineer in Georgia Tech Research Institute’s (GTRI) Electro-Optics, Environment and Materials Lab.

Ready is developing a CNT-based electrochemical double-layer capacitor, a project sponsored by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Command. Such supercapacitors would provide more power, increased energy density (more charge per gram of weight) and longer life than traditional batteries and capacitors that store electrical energy.

In-house Production
Ready’s supercapacitors are made of two CNT-based active electrodes immersed in an electrolyte and separated by an ion-permeable membrane that prevents electron transfer. “CNTs are ideal to use as the active electrode material because their nanoscale dimensions provide more surface area for storing charge,” Ready says. That extra surface area exponentially increases capacitance – the amount of power that can be stored.

Ready began work on the project last, aided by Stephan Turano, a materials science graduate student at Georgia Tech, and Charlie Higgins, a computer science major from Georgia State University. The team has already produced dozens of CNT supercapacitors, which have been used for electrical tests.

Feedback from those tests helps improve the manufacturing process. For example, the researchers have learned that when pressure is applied to electrodes during testing, the supercapacitor performs better. With that in mind, Ready is trying to incorporate a clamping or bolting between the two electrode plates during production to increase pressure.

The next step is reliability testing to see how the CNT supercapacitors hold up under different environments, which is especially important for space-based applications. The devices are placed in a chamber that exposes them to extreme temperature and humidity, accelerating the aging process. “We can simulate 20 years of life in about 1,000 hours instead of having them sit around for 20 years,” Ready says.
photo by Gary Meek

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are a hexagonal network of carbon atoms rolled to form a seamless cylinder – a sort of "chicken wire" lattice of graphite. (300-dpi JPEG version - 340k)

Initially, Ready obtained CNTs from NASA’s Johnson Space Center. But with a new piece of equipment, a chemical vapor deposition furnace, the researchers can now produce CNTs on site. “This will enable us to try a different manufacturing technique – chemical vapor deposition versus the HiPCO (high pressure carbon monoxide) process – and compare and contrast the two methods,” Ready says.

The CNTs from NASA come in a bottle, which the researchers mix into a paste and then apply between the two electrodes. “The contact between the paste and electrodes is important,” Ready explains. “By using the chemical vapor deposition furnace, we can actually grow CNTs in situ on copper foil electrodes, which will provide a better connection.”

To produce the CNTs, gases are fed into a sealed quartz tube (about 2 inches by 18 inches), which contains a substrate, such as copper foil or silicon wafers. A catalyst is required to help attach the carbon to the substrate, and Ready has been using nano-sized islands of nickel. The furnace is heated to about 900 degrees Celsius, and the CNTs self-assemble from there, Ready says. The entire process, from closing the furnace door to opening it, takes about three hours, but much of that time involves cooling as the CNTs form in about 30 minutes.

Chirality: The Holy Grail
Besides providing an alternative manufacturing technique, the new furnace enables researchers to produce CNTs in a controlled manner: They can alter the temperature and flow-rates of gases (hydrogen, methane and ethylene) used to form the CNTs. Varying these factors will affect both the quantity and quality of CNTs produced.

One of the biggest challenges is controlling the physical dimensions of CNTs, as their electrical properties vary depending on length, diameter and chirality (how the graphite rolls up). Controlling chirality is by far the most daunting task, which Ready calls “the Holy Grail” of CNT production.

Some chiral arrangements yield CNTs with semi-conducting properties, while others have metallic properties. “If you could control chirality, you could control the ‘flavor’ of the CNT,” Ready explains, noting that his team wants to produce CNTs with 100 percent metallic properties.

Although Ready focuses on electronic and power applications, CNTs hold potential for a wide variety of uses, including flat-panel displays, electric field generators, solar cells and loss-less motor windings.

Yet a consistent manufacturing method is the key to introducing CNT-materials into real-world devices. “Producing one CNT-based supercapacitor with exceptional capabilities is one thing,” Ready says. “Yet producing hundreds or thousands of supercapacitors that perform identically and reliably enough to be operationally viable is quite another thing – and our ultimate goal.”

With that in mind, Ready is trying to establish partnerships with large manufacturers that could aid in testing and production, and recently signed an agreement with Maxwell Technologies Inc., a San Diego-based manufacturer of supercapacitors. “Working with external industry partners like Maxwell Technologies will help us get CNTs out of the lab and into products that can actually be used,” he explains.

“Our strategy is to create strong win-win relationships focused on commercializing breakthrough technologies,” says Richard Smith, executive vice president at Maxwell Technologies. “The potential for CNTs in ultracapacitors is a multibillion dollar business, and it’s exciting to team with such a prestigious group as GTRI.”

T.J. Becker

For more information, contact Jud Ready at 404-385-4497 or jud.ready@gtri.gatech.edu.


Bolstering Biotech
ATDC’s new Biosciences Center assists life-science startups, accelerates technology transfer.

With bioscience research on the increase in Georgia, the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) has launched a new incubator devoted exclusively to the commercialization of life-science innovations.

The 22,000-square-foot ATDC Biosciences Center is the first ATDC unit on the Georgia Tech campus to offer wet labs. Equipped with fume hoods and sinks, this kind of laboratory space
photo by Gary Meek

Dr. Karim Godamunn‚ poses with research scientist Omar Alexander in the Vivonetics laboratory at the ATDC Biosciences Center. The company is developing molecular beacons for cancer diagnostic applications.

is important for bioscience companies that typically need special ventilation and purified water systems to advance their research.

Another hallmark of the new incubator is its location within the new Ford Environmental Science & Technology (ES & T) Building, a 287,000-square foot research center that houses a variety of life-science programs ranging from biomedical engineering to clean energy. (ES & T is part of Georgia Tech’s Life Sciences and Technology Complex, which also includes the Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Building and the Petit Biotechnology Building – all constructed in the last four years.)

Integrated Approach
“It’s unusual to have an incubator inside a major research building. Most incubators on university campuses are freestanding, in separate facilities,” says Wayne Hodges, director of ATDC and Georgia Tech’s vice provost for Economic Development and Technology Ventures.

Yet by convenient to researchers in the new Life Sciences and Technology Complex, the ATDC Biosciences Center enables entrepreneurs and university faculty – individuals who are typically isolated from each other – to collaborate more easily. The arrangement also fosters an interesting exchange of perspectives, Hodges adds: “It helps investors and entrepreneurs better understand the interests of faculty and vice versa.”

ATDC first experimented with this sort of holistic approach in 1996 when it opened an incubator in the Georgia Centers for Advanced Telecommunication Technology (GCATT) building, home for some 20 research centers funded by government and industry.

Numerous success stories have emerged from ATDC at GCATT, including Digital Furnace, a company formed by Atlanta entrepreneur John Lappington and Georgia Tech Professor John Limb that developed software to improve the efficiency of broadband networks. In less than two years after Digital Furnace’s incorporation, Broadcom Corp. of Irvine, Calif., acquired the company in a stock trade valued at more than $136 million.

“Having multiple incubators on campus is more challenging in terms of managing the physical space and providing business services to the companies,” says Susan Shows, vice president of the Georgia Research Alliance, which has provided more than $5 million to launch the new incubator. “Yet the benefits of this integrated model far outweigh any complications.”
photo by Gary Meek

CardioMEMS engineer Florent Cros examines electroplating on samples. The electroplating process is a key manufacturing step in the company's MEMS-based sensors.

The ATDC Biosciences Center is an important “first step” in advancing Georgia’s bioscience prowess, Shows adds: “Although bioscience is growing rapidly, it’s still a relatively new industry in Georgia. We’re trying to identify our core competencies and build industry around those strengths. By putting startups next to outstanding scientists and sophisticated equipment, we hope to generate more successful commercialization and tech transfer.”

Addressing Special Needs
Although the road to success is bumpy for most entrepreneurs, bioscience startups encounter even more potholes.

“It’s a completely different world from telecommunications or electronics,” says Lee Herron, ATDC’s general manager of biosciences. “There are more ways for a bioscience startup to fail than to succeed. ATDC works with entrepreneurs to help mitigate some of the risks.”

Bioscience startups have greater capital needs, take longer to get to market and face significant technical risks. They typically operate within a regulated environment, which also complicates commercialization. For example, companies may need FDA approval before they can take their product or service to market.

“Most products must undergo extensive pre-marketing testing,” Herron adds. “The ultimate commercial product depends on the outcome of clinical trials, and it’s not uncommon to spend large sums in pre-clinical and clinicaldevelopment only to have products fail in clinical studies.”

Yet Georgia Tech is advancing bioscience entrepreneurs on two fronts. ATDC works with existing startups to provide strategic business advice and resources that fledgling firms need to become high-growth companies. And, as a sister entity to ATDC, VentureLab assists Georgia Tech faculty in the tech-transfer process – moving innovations out of the university lab and into commercial markets. VentureLab works with faculty to identify innovations that have commercialization potential and then link researchers with VentureLab Fellows – experienced entrepreneurs and managers who serve as business coaches.

The new ATDC Biosciences Center houses both ATDC member companies and VentureLab participants, including:

  • Aderans Research Institute, a tissue-engineering company doing research on hair transplantation.

  • CardioMEMS, a medical device company using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology to create tiny wireless sensors that will enable doctors to monitor heart patients more easily.

  • Focal Point Microsystems, which is creating 3D microstructures with broad applications that range from medicine to advanced communications.

  • Orthonics, a tissue-engineering company developing advanced biomaterials to promote bone growth and adhesion.

  • Stheno Corp., which is advancing consumer safety through the development of chemical detection systems.

  • Vivonetics, which is developing a living-cell gene detection system for drug discovery and research.
A Plus For Faculty
“With a number of Georgia Tech faculty interested in bio-related commercialization opportunities, the ATDC Biosciences Center represents an important addition to the Georgia Tech campus,” says Robert Nerem, director of the school’s Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.
photo by Gary Meek

The ATDC Biosciences Center business incubator is located within the new Ford Environmental Science & Technology Building, a 287,000-square-foot research center that houses a variety of life-science programs ranging from biomedical engineering to clean energy.

Indeed, many companies in the new incubator have strong faculty connections. Faculty members may be inventors of technology that’s being commercialized, or they may be providing expertise to assist an ATDC member company. Either way, the incubator’s campus location allows university faculty to engage in entrepreneurial activity without sacrificing their teaching or research responsibilities.

Case in point: Gang Bao, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech, is co-founder of Vivonetics, one of the first companies in the new facility.

For Bao, who is also faculty member at Emory University and shoulders numerous research projects, teaching and committee responsibilities, every minute counts. Vivonetics’s offices and labs in the ATDC Biosciences Center are next door to Bao’s office in the Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Building – a “huge plus” for Bao. “I can walk into the company lab in less than five minutes to talk with our engineer,” he explains. “Not having to deal with more commuting or parking makes my life much easier.”

Bao’s first entrepreneurial undertaking, Vivonetics evolved from the VentureLab program.

Until recently, Bao had never even considered forming his own company. Yet in 2002, Dr. Karim Godamunné, a VentureLab Fellow with previous startup experience, approached Bao to discuss his research with a new class of molecular beacons – a technology that showed promise for rapidly detecting cancer and diagnosing viral infection. The two men joined forces and launched Vivonetics. Although still in R&D mode, the company is making strides and has won two grants from GRA, as well as a grant from the federal government’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program.

Besides enabling him to juggle multiple roles, Bao says that ATDC has helped Vivonetics by significantly reducing its startup costs. For example, the special equipment available in the incubator has saved Vivonetics more than $20,000. Launching a company might have been possible without ATDC, Bao says, “but it would have been far more difficult, and the chance of success would be much lower.”

In a different take on tech transfer, ATDC’s new incubator provides space for companies that cannot be accommodated by EmTech Bio, an incubator on Emory University’s campus that is jointly operated by Georgia Tech and Emory. (EmTech Bio has essentially been operating at full occupancy since its inception in 2000.)

When Aderans Research Institute experienced a recent growth spurt, it was able to move out of crowded space at EmTech Bio and into the ATDC Biosciences Center, which enabled the company to triple its offices from 500 to 1,500 square feet and increase its staff from two employees to five.

Not only a benefit for companies, the arrangement also strengthens ties between the two research universities, Herron says.

T.J. Becker

For more information, contact Wayne Hodges, 404-894-5217 or wayne.hodges@edi.gatech.edu.


Learning by Experience
Undergraduate research program yields multiple benefits for two institutions.

Researchers and students at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Agnes Scott College
photo by T. Michael Keza

Georgia Tech Research Institute Principal Research Scientist Gary Gimmestad, shown, and Agnes Scott Associate Professor of Physics Arthur Bowling led a joint undergraduate research project. (300-dpi JPEG version - 422k)

in Atlanta recently collaborated in an innovative program to provide hands-on undergraduate research experience and build a laboratory instrument for environmental studies, including air quality research.

Led by Georgia Tech Research Institute Principal Research Scientist Gary Gimmestad and Agnes Scott Associate Professor of Physics Arthur Bowling, undergraduate students at both institutions designed and built a laser-based instrument patterned after a type of light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology. It is eye-safe and operates in the visible light spectrum.

“This instrument development and atmospheric research project has provided an unrivaled undergraduate research experience for the students,” Gimmestad says. “…. We believe this program will serve as a national model.”

Students spent two semesters designing and building the instrument – called an eye-safe atmospheric research LIDAR, or EARL. It now operates in a new laboratory at the Bradley Observatory at Agnes Scott, a private women’s college that has expanded its curriculum because of the instrument.
courtesy of Gary Gimmestad, GTRI

Agnes Scott College student Lauren Davis participated in an undergraduate research project jointly led by GTRI and the women's college. The students built a laser-based, air-quality measurement instrument patterned after a type of light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology. (300-dpi JPEG version - 199k)

Like other LIDARs, the students’ instrument works like this: 1) A laser emits pulses of light into the atmosphere, where some of the light is scattered. 2) Then a telescope receives some of that scattered light. 3) A detector converts the light to electronic signals. 4) A data system digitizes and stores those signals. 5) Finally, researchers determine the distance the light traveled by multiplying the speed of light by the flight time it took the pulse to travel up and back.

Though they patterned their design after traditional LIDAR instruments, students had to develop detailed designs of the transmitter, receiver and overall structure, Gimmestad notes. And they are evaluating the instrument based on a comparison of its actual measurements to results predicted by a simulation, he adds.

Then students can use EARL to gather environmental data, such as measurements of atmospheric particulate matter, a key indicator of air quality. Gimmestad is hopeful researchers elsewhere also will use data gathered by EARL.

The National Science Foundation funded the three-year program, which began in September 2001. The Georgia Tech College of Engineering also provided funds for the project.

“The collaboration between Agnes Scott and Georgia Tech has benefited both institutions,” Gimmestad says. “Agnes Scott has obtained a state-of-the-art research instrument…. For Georgia Tech, the collaboration is providing a natural way to attract qualified female students into its graduate programs.”

Jane M. Sanders

For more information, contact Gary Gimmestad, GTRI, at 404-894-3419 or gary.gimmestad@gtri.gatech.edu;    or Arthur Bowling, Agnes Scott College, at 404-471-6276 or abowling@agnesscott.edu.


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