Profs. Charbon, Thévenaz and Millán named 2017 IEEE Fellows

Two STI researchers have earned the prestigious title of 2017 IEEE Fellows: Edoardo Charbon, Head of the Advanced Quantum Architecture Laboratory, Luc Thévenaz, Head of the Group for Fiber Optics, and José del R. Millán, Defitech Foundation Chair in Brain-machine Interface.

Edoardo Charbon

"For contributions to solid-state single photon avalanche detectors and their applications in imaging"

The milestone contributions of Edoardo are on SPAD (single-photon avalanche diode) devices. Back to its invention in the 1970s, the SPAD was hailed as the solid-state replacement of photomultipliers, the last vacuum tube sensor still on stage, and unsurpassed in performance at the time. But the difficult technology and the long recovery time rendered it more similar to a Geiger-Muller detector than to a photomultiplier, confining the SPAD to very limited applications.

charbon_300Edoardo had the vision to overcome these drawbacks by designing the SPAD in a low-cost, scalable technology, the same used in microchips and smartphones. This paved the way to large SPAD arrays and SPAD cameras, with `smart pixels’ capable of complex functions. Thanks to Edoardo’s decisive contribution, today we have a true solid-state photomultiplier equaling or surpassing the vacuum tube counterpart. Not only: the smart pixel incorporating, for instance, a time-of-flight telemeter, is already a breakthrough in itself, a full instrument on a chip. The new device has soon gained general acceptance in science applications, and the design of Edoardo has proven superior time resolution, down to few tens of picoseconds, and imaging capability that has been put to work in tools like PET (positron emission spectroscopy), FLIM (fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy) and FCS (fluorescence correlation spectroscopy), of great value to biophysicists and doctors, whereas clinical use is on its way.

The impact in the fields of instrumentation and consumer electronics is already a reality. Here, the SPAD design of Edoardo has been incorporated in a laser rangefinder, a hand-held instrument redesigned by Bosch (Germany) to take advantage of the fast detection capability of the SPAD. The result was an improvement of the distance measurement accuracy from cm to mm, a 3x reduction of size and weight, and a cost reduction by 4x. Another big success is the proximity sensor designed for the smartphone market, once again a mini 3D camera for very short range operation, all-in-a-chip based on Edoardo’s SPAD patents. It is now fabricated by STMicroelectronics (France & UK).

José del R. Millán

"for contributions to brain-controlled robots"

José del R. Millán has been rewarded for several seminal contributions to the field of brain-machine interfaces (BMI), especially based on electroencephalogram (EEG) signals.

Most of his achievements revolve around the design of brain-controlled robots or neuroprostheses (wheelchairs, telepresence robots or exoskeletons) that users can drive continuously and for long periods of time, thanks to electrodes placed on their skull.

A key component of these brain-controlled robots is the principle of shared control. This implies that the intelligent robotic device guided by humans can actively participate in the decision-making process, allow fine-grained control, increase reliability, and reduce users’ cognitive workload.

Millán’s second seminal contribution is to decode, and integrate in the neuroprosthetic control loop, neural correlates of the user’s awareness to errors made by the BMI in decoding their intention. Detection of these error-related potentials (ErrP) allows for the filtering out of erroneous responses and adaptation of the BMI in real time, thus increasing the reliability and performance of the brain-controlled device.

Millán is also performing different translational studies with end-users suffering from motor disabilities, the ultimate goal of BMI technology. For this purpose he set up and led a large European project called TOBI. Over 100 end-users (including severely locked-in cases) participated in the project. Millán and his group have shown how a substantial number of end-users can control sophisticated devices after minimal training, achieving the same performance as healthy users and, strikingly, at the same level than with manual commands that they could deliver with any residual movement they had (e.g., tilting the head).

The highest grade of membership
The IEEE Grade of Fellow is conferred by the IEEE Board of Directors upon a person with an outstanding record of accomplishments in any of the IEEE fields of interest. IEEE Fellow is the highest grade of membership and is recognized by the technical community as a prestigious honor and an important career achievement. This grade is given to a maximum of one out of 1000 members per year.

Through its 400,000 plus members in 160 countries, the association IEEE is a leading authority on a wide variety of areas ranging from aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power and consumer electronics. 

Luc Thévenaz

"for contributions to Brillouin-based fiber-optic sensors"

Luc Thévenaz is recognized for his fundamental contributions to the development of advanced Brillouin-based fiber-optic techniques for ultra-sophisticated sensing, signals processing, and slow and fast light.
This technology has now entered the real world and contributes to making our world safer, by anticipating catastrophic failures through the constant monitoring of large structures, landslides, deformation in pipelines, energy overload in cables, and dangers resulting from human and natural threats.

For more than 25 years Prof. Luc Thevenaz has consistently made significant and fundamental contributions to Brillouin-based distributed fiber-optic sensing, as well as to the research and implementations of Brillouin-based slow and fast light in optical fibers. He is universally recognized as an international leader in these two fields. He currently coordinates a european network of excellence – Horizon 2020- that aims at developping optical fiber sensors mimicking the nervous system, to make objetcs and structures more sensitive.