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Canterbury student to launch robotic company in Christchurch

Canterbury student to use Silicon Valley internship to launch robotic company in Christchurch

June 15, 2014

A University of Canterbury PhD student has won an intern scholarship to the IBM research centre in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Steven Banerjee has received an IBM funded University of Canterbury BlueFern internship to spend up to six months at the IBM Almaden Research Labs in San Jose, California. It is one of IBM's nine worldwide research labs and has made seminal contributions to computer storage systems and materials science and technology.

The IBM lab is located in the hills above Silicon Valley with close proximity to Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley. It is home to 10 IBM Fellows, 10 IBM distinguished engineers, nine IBM Master Inventors and 17 members of the IBM Academy of Technology.

``One of the researchers I will be working with is Jane Frommer, a pioneer in scanning probe microscopy which started the nanotechnology age in the mid-1980s,’’ Banerjee says.

``IBM Almaden has established different forms of data storage devices including hard-disc drives and flash based memory devices. We use them in our normal daily life. Over the past decade, however, IBM has been investing heavily toward developing a new class of computing storage technology in terms of non-volatile memories such as phase-change devices.

``These memories incorporate a new kind of material known as a mixed ionic-electronic conductor because of their interesting electronic properties. This class of storage devices will be tiny, faster in terms of reading and writing data and consume less power. Imagine living in a world where the storage density of our computers, smart phones and any other electronic devices would be exponentially more powerful compared to devices of today.

``My research will involve looking into the performance of the conductor to look at hands-on tasks such as electrical testing, electronics circuit design, manufacturing in clean-room, automation of data collected from these devices and then analysing them.

``The reason the internship is critical is because it will give me first-hand experience with the intellectual and business culture in the Silicon Valley for a significant period of time. The research infrastructure that I will have access to at IBM is amazing. This will give me new ideas in commercialising and further research into our micro/nano robotic technology that we have been developing as a part of my PhD at the University of Canterbury.

``This visit will help me in my start-up venture in Christchurch when I come back to New Zealand. My plan is to develop the world's first micro/nano robotic desktop-sized factory for manipulating objects that are tens to hundreds of times smaller than a speck of dust.

``I want to create this first-of-its-kind tiny factory that will have applications from drug research and discovery to the 3D printing of molecules. It will have downstream benefits to the New Zealand economy working out of Christchurch with angel investors from Silicon Valley and New Zealand. This would be a win-win scenario not only for New Zealand but also globally,’’ Banerjee says.


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