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Necessity of research

Technology evolution in this century has enriched the human life in many ways. Electronic equipments have become an essential part of our life, and a number of mobile applications are being linked to daily life of humans. Wireless technologies are linking mobile equipment, such as laptop computers, cell phones and e-books, into a ubiquitous computing environment. These mobile devices have never been tightly coupled with our daily life in the history of mankind until now.

Another forefront of research is to further enhance human-device interfaces in order to restore/maintain/strengthen human functionality. One of the most brilliant examples of such attempts is a cochlear device implanted into an ear that directly stimulates auditory nerves inside a cochlea with an electric field using electric impulses. The cochlear device has changed the life of many people with severely degraded hearing. Likewise, the research on artificial retina is also rapidly progressing to provide an alternative vision to blind people. Controlling electrical signals in the nerve systems of human body, especially in spinal cord, with the dexterity of human brain can cure patients with various degrees of paralysis. Higher level brain-computer interfaces may provide a means to deal with many brain-related diseases. Bionic devices and related health care industry dealing with aging problems are expected to grow to a major industry in near future. Thus, it is important to develop technical and human resources to prepare for the new industry.

Furthermore, while above technologies have been investigated for medical purposes, the base technologies for bionic applications have many other applications for a general population. In the future, these devices may be used to enhance the functionality of humans or to overcome the speed of human interfaces or portability of human-computer interfaces. For example, technologies from the artificial retina/eye can be used to make a mobile monitor implanted into a human or worn as contact lenses. A keyboard can be replaced with brain-computer interface devices. Considering the historical success of mobile devices, which created a huge industry like cell phones and laptops, enhanced portability of human-electronics interface devices will create opportunities for another generation of new high tech industries.

The research on bionics is still in its early stage, and in many cases, actual devices medically implanted have not been fabricated using the best materials and devices available for such applications due to a less integrated approach. The international graduate school, GIST, has developed a strong infrastructure in nanotechnology, flexible electronics, biotechnology, and information technology, as shown in the attached collective publications and patents of current GIST faculty members.

Building on this strong foundation, the GIST team is proposing to establish a new department - Department of Nanobio Materials and Electronics - to explore bionic applications systematically from materials/devices to the systems/architecture level, especially with internationally renowned scholars invited from abroad to strengthen following areas: biomorphic devices, high-efficiency photosensors, wearable displays, flexible energy storage, microphotonic RF signal processors, nanobio interface characterization, networks of nanobio sensors and their algorithms.

The synergistic collaboration with the globally competitive foreign faculty members will expedite the progress of research through expanded expertise and research network. The collaboration plan will also provide a critical path to test research outcome from the department with research groups in medical hospitals outside. With the funding available through the WCU program, this team will be able to investigate technologies that can improve the daily life of millions of people significantly and will become a center of human-bionics research with a worldwide visibility.

Objective and Rationale

This program aims to develop flexible, wearable, implantable materials, devices and systems for bionic human applications by combining core technologies of nanotechnology (NT), biotechnology (BT), and information technology (IT) developed by GIST faculty and foreign faculty members and to educate students, who, as researchers and engineers, can lead the evolution of new bionic application industries in Korea. To achieve these research and education goals, six teams are formed within the Ddepartment to cover different aspects of bionic technology, as shown in Fig. 1.

Figure 1 Flexible, wearable, implantable bionic applications for human beings/

Figure 2 Schematic diagram shows the structure of the 6 task teams. The upper figure shows the technologies to be developed through this program and the lower figure shows the six tasks./

Task 1 focuses on materials and devices to demonstrate neuromorphic devices that can be used to build extremely power-efficient implantable devices and self-reconfigurable circuits that can emulate neuron functions. Task 2 develops flexible display and nanophotonic technologies to build wearable display devices including a bionic eye. Task 3 targets to develop highly efficient, portable and flexible solar cells integrated with energy storage devices for bionic applications. Task 4 develops materials and devices for wearable and implantable nanobio sensors to monitor activities of human body. As shown in Fig. 2, the Task 5 and 6 teams jointly support and expedite the development of the technologies of Task 1 to Task 4. Task 5 develops time-resolved characterization technologies that would enable the investigation of the interactions at nanobio interfaces such as X-ray microscopy and SPM (scanning probe microscopy) in order to support the research on bio-compatible materials in Tasks 1-4. Task 6 develops a system integration technology to process signal and information from nanobio sensors and to construct wireless networks with bionic application devices. Table 1 summarizes the yearly goals of proposed tasks. In general, the first year will be devoted to building collaborative teams with foreign faculty members and to setting-up an infrastructure to perform joint research and educations. The second through the fourth year will be devoted to obtaining concrete technical results, and the fifth year will be devoted to integrating research outcomes for demonstration of our final goals. Table 2 summarizes the specific research plans to achieve our research goals.

Method & Structure of Implementation

To achieve the global leadership in the research field of “flexible, wearable, implantable materials, device and systems”, world renowned experts from Europe, Japan, USA, and Australia are invited to join the department as shown in Fig. 3. Depending on his/her research specialty, each invited foreign faculty members will team up with 6 task teams to perform collaborative research works with GIST faculty members. The invited foreign faculty members will also link the GIST teams into their current research programs and research network. It is expected that the GIST teams will be able to access the resources available worldwide through the invited faculty members and create more opportunities for globalized research at GIST. The global human network and the strong collaboration between the research groups across the world will enhance the research capability of the Department significantly and lead to the success of this program. As a result, GIST will be able to position itself as a place to lead and contribute towards world-class research on nanobio materials and electronics.

Figure 3 Global research network for NBIT fusion research on bionic applications/

The list of key persons and their research achievements are as follows:

  • Prof. Niside (Waseda University) has pioneered in the synthesis and characterization of novel polymeric materials such as polymer radicals (reported in Science 319, 737 (2008)). As a world renowned scientist, he will play a leading role in the development of thin-film organic batteries integrated with polymer thin film solar cells. He will work with Prof. Heeger at UCSB (Nobel Laureate) and form a strong international collaboration network in this area.
  • Prof. Nickles is a founding scientist in the field of the collisional transient x-ray lasers which is the most prominent application area of the high power intense laser systems. He has lead the department of high-field laser application laboratory of Max Born Institute from 1992-2006. He has a strong collaboration with the Institute of Laser Engineering in Osaka University. Prof. Nickles will play a great role in the development of x-ray lasers using the ultrashort high power laser facilities installed at advanced photonic research institute (APRI) in GIST.
  • Prof. Ignatiev (University of Houston) will link Task 2 group to the research groups in the medical schools at the University of Texas.
  • Prof. Lee and Prof. Pantisano will facilitate the collaboration with IMEC in Belgium and SEMATECH in the U.S.A. to fabricate highly integrated devices at a later stage of research. Both IMEC and SEMATECH have 200mm/300mm R&D foundry facility and this collaboration will effectively link Task 1 group to the most advanced facilities to fabricate semiconductor devices.

The Department will institute an exchange program for graduate students and technical staff members to encourage international collaboration with participating research groups, and organize international multi-disciplinary workshops in the area of nanobio materials and electronics. With the strong support from GIST and the Korean government, the department will sucuessfully establish a globally competitive research program.

Structure of Research Proposal and Researchers

The department consists of six task teams with 18 domestic and 10 foreign faculty members. The participating faculty and task groups are shown below

The synopsis of research plans and innovative approaches are described below. Innovative approaches uniquely proposed by GIST team are highlighted in bold.

Figure 4 Participants in the six tasks within the department. The top portion of the list shows the foreign faculty.