NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Research & Development Laboratories (RDL) of Culver City, CA, a partner with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the development of room-temperature electron tunneling technology, has been selected for immediate negotiation of a $500,000 Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer Program contract.

One of 13 research proposals chosen by NASA's Office of Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology in early October, RDL's work will focus on fabrication of a micro-electromechanical systems-based (MEMS) tunneling infrared detector -- a highly sensitive, miniaturized instrument designed to measure the intensity of infrared radiation. The detector, along with the electronic circuitry associated with it, will be designed for insertion into Fourier transform infrared spectrometers, instruments measuring the infrared spectral characteristics associated with such substances as minerals and gases.

There are many other potential applications, including measuring the level of glucose in the blood simply by attaching an instrument to the skin without the need for invasive procedures; process monitor instruments; and micro- miniaturization of sensors for space exploration.

A key feature of the technology, which RDL will prepare for actual manufacturing as part of the contract, is its capacity to function at room temperature, without the traditional need for cooling. JPL originally developed room-temperature electron tunneling MEMS technology at its Center for Space Microelectronics Technology. Via the center, JPL is now an RDL subcontractor assisting with the further development of this technology, which has not yet been patented. NASA's Small Business Technology Transfer Program makes it possible for companies such as RDL to have the opportunity to obtain patents on such specialized technology, once they have demonstrated that they can develop commercial applications.

"Everybody wins if the space program can play a role in helping the private sector to prosper," said Dr. Carl Kukkonen, director of JPL's Center for Space Microelectronics Technology. This technology was originally developed to improve instruments such as imaging sensors used for mapping and for Earth and planetary observations. Now RDL, with the help of the center's scientists and equipment, has picked up the ball and is moving this technology forward for commercial applications and, potentially, for other future NASA applications."

RDL president Dr. Birendra (Raj) Dutt said the company is delighted with the news of winning the NASA award. And we have every intention of making the tunneling infrared detector a commercial success."

The 13 Small Business Technology Transfer contract recipients were chosen from a total of 32 Phase II proposals, all submitted by small business contractors who had completed Phase I projects. RDL, working with JPL, completed a Phase I effort which demonstrated proof-of-concept of a MEMS-based tunneling infrared detector preamplifier breadboard for insertion into a Fourier transform infrared spectrometer.

All proposals were reviewed for both technical merit and commercial potential. Selections were based on scientific and technical merit, including the degree to which Phase I objectives were met; future importance and eventual value of the product, process, or technology results to the NASA mission; capability of the small business concern; and evidence of commercial potential.

The Small Business Technology Transfer Program requires a small business concern to conduct cooperative research and development by partnering with a research institution such as JPL. At least 40 percent of the work must be performed by the small business concern, and at least 30 percent of the work must be performed by the research institute.

A listing of the selected proposals is available on the Internet at .

Further information about JPL's Center for Space Microelectronics Technology is available at .

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

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