Catalyst Grants: Sensing the Future

Providing better images at lower costs for more accurate diagnoses

When Ilya Avdeev became a member of the largest group of engineering faculty hired at UWM in 2009, he brought with him several years of real-world experience working at ANSYS, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based engineering simulation software company.

Now an assistant professor in the College of Engineering & Applied Science, Avdeev is channeling his industrial know-how into research looking at ways to manage heat so machinery can more effectively operate. He and his students are using computational mechanics – turning the real world into the virtual world of computer simulations – to find solutions. The research is funded by a Catalyst Grant funded in part by GE Healthcare.

“This one-year grant shows students that industry has skin in the game – that they need to show results and improvements and report them to business leaders,” Avdeev says. For GE Healthcare, they have access to early-stage research that fosters commercialization of new technology.

Turning Down the Heat

Avdeev’s team is developing algorithms to monitor and model what happens inside computed tomography scanners in real time as temperatures rise. Commonly known as CT scanners, this medical or industrial equipment uses computer-processed X-rays to produce diagnostic images. The cooling solutions rely on many thermal sensors sending real-time information to computers that provide complex thermal control.

“There’s quite a bit of heat generated by a CT detector. If the detector gets too hot, it might have a negative effect on scan accuracy as well as reduce the system’s lifetime,” Avdeev explains. “Additionally, we can’t just put sensors everywhere. Our real-time computer simulations can predict how hot the system will get, as well as help determine the best sensor placement for the most effective thermal management.”

His team’s work will ultimately help companies like GE Healthcare provide better image quality at lower costs for physicians so they can deliver a more accurate diagnosis to a broader range of patients. Just as important, alternative ways to manage energy also will help manage healthcare costs through lower utility bills and fewer equipment breakdowns and replacements.

Industrial Applications

Industry uses more energy than any other end-use sector, consuming about one-half of the world’s total delivered energy. That means the research has applications for almost any other industry that needs to reduce processing heat. In Southeastern Wisconsin, that could include businesses such as Briggs & Stratton, which makes small engine motors; Joy Global, which manufactures mining equipment; Snap-on Incorporated, which produces tools – or dozens of other companies.

Avdeev is working to configure embedded sensor-related computers into the smallest of objects and compares that to “developing tiny brains” that will change our lives “in ways we cannot think of now.”

Since his arrival in Milwaukee, Avdeev founded the Advanced Manufacturing and Design Laboratory, a collaborative research group that focuses on advanced modeling techniques and real-time field simulations as well as design and characterization of micro-mechanical sensors and actuators.

He also leads several campus programs, including the National Science Foundation-sponsored Pathways to Innovation program and the UWM Student Startup Challenge, which both are focused on promoting innovation and entrepreneurial thinking in engineering education.