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Engineering Professors Receive IGEM Award to Develop ‘Smart’ Micropump

By: Cienna Madrid   Published 1:47 pm / December 19, 2017

Two engineers beam at the camera

Nader Rafla, left, with Peter Müllner, right

Boise State University’s Nader Rafla, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Peter Müllner, a professor of materials science and engineering, have received a $418,330 Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) award to support the development of a smart micropump.

The IGEM grant program supports research collaborations between university researchers and business experts to create new technologies for commercial use. Rafla and Müllner will partner with the Boise State startup company Shaw Mountain Technology LLC and AceCo Precision Manufacturing to develop a magnetic shape memory (MSM) micropump for the research laboratory and drug delivery markets.

MSM alloys are typically a combination of nickel, manganese and gallium. These alloys create ferromagnetic materials that can shape shift when placed near a magnet – apply a magnetic field, and the material responds with a shape change. Remove the field, and the new shape remains. Apply a different magnetic field and the material re-forms into a new shape. Do this quickly and with purpose and a small motor or pump can be created. Thus, the material is the machine.

The IGEM award will help researchers and their business partners create an electromagnetic drive system for the MSM micropump. The goal is to develop a complete pumping system with no moving parts. The electromagnetic drive system and closed loop control will improve pumping precision. This technology can be used to integrate components of a drug delivery system into a single chip. It can also be used for DNA sequencing or biochemical detection. This lab-on-a-chip platform is based on microfluidics technology, which is the science and engineering of fluid flow in microscale.

Boise State already has licensed three patents on MSM technology to Shaw Mountain Technology. The startup company is currently beta testing the MSM micropump in research laboratories.

“I envision the Treasure Valley as the home of the first company that commercializes MSM technology and a growing new industry of smart material micro-devices. All my scholarly activities will support this vision,” said Müllner, founder of Shaw Mountain Technology.

Celebrating 20 years at Boise State, the College of Engineering educates high-quality engineers who can strengthen the local workforce. This IGEM project is an excellent opportunity for the college to partner with local businesses to create new products, support local companies and provide high-value jobs in Idaho.