5 Electrical Engineering Research Projects Making Their Mark in 2024

March 08, 2024 by Jake Hertz

From 3D processors to self-powered sensors, these academic research projects show how "the next big thing" in electronics may emerge from labs worldwide.

Many of the most influential hardware companies can trace their origins back to a university lab. Even RISC-V, the open-source ISA taking the hardware world by storm, had its humble beginnings at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2010. Only a few months into 2024, several projects from universities worldwide—from MIT in Boston to Shibaura Institute of Technology in Japan, have caught our attention. Here's our editor's pick of five electrical engineering research projects to keep an eye on. 


MIT: Magnetic Energy Harvesting Sensor

MIT researchers have developed a self-powered, battery-free sensor that harvests magnetic energy from its surroundings. This sensor, designed for difficult-to-access areas like ship engines, can monitor power consumption and operations over extended periods without the need for battery replacement or special wiring.


System diagram of the self-powered sensor

System diagram of the self-powered sensor. Image used courtesy of IEEE

It operates by leveraging the ambient magnetic fields generated around electrical wires, enabling it to clip onto a wire and autonomously harvest energy. This energy is then used to monitor the temperature of the motor it is attached to. The researchers believe this innovation could lead to networks of maintenance-free sensors for various applications, significantly reducing installation and maintenance costs and potentially transforming the landscape of sensor deployment in industrial settings, manufacturing plants, and beyond.


Caltech: Tying Knots Inside Lasers

Caltech's recently published its latest research on mode-locked lasers, lasers that emit light in steady pulses instead of in one continuous beam. The team effectively created a "knot" within the laser pulses, enhancing their resilience to imperfections and environmental disturbances.


“Tying to knot” with lasers

“Tying to knot” with lasers. Image used courtesy of Caltech

Such topological temporal mode-locking could significantly improve the stability and performance of frequency combs—crucial tools in modern communication, sensing, and computing applications. By ensuring that these laser pulses can withstand external shocks without losing coherence, the research opens new avenues for developing advanced sensing technologies and more reliable communication systems.


University of Florida: 3D Processors for Wireless Comms

The University of Florida's electrical engineering department has developed a three-dimensional processor it claims may "transform the landscape of wireless communication." The researchers aim to address the inherent limitations of traditional planar processors by embracing the third dimension, leading to unprecedented compactness and efficiency in data transmission. 


3D filter

A 3D filter created from connecting ferroelectric-gate fin resonators with different frequencies. Image used courtesy of the University of Florida

These 3D nanomechanical resonators, fabricated using CMOS technology, integrate different frequencies on one monolithic chip. The team calls this device a new type of spectral processor, taking a new approach to multi-band, frequency-agile radio chipsets to meet the surging demands for seamless connectivity and real-time data exchange. The potential applications are wide-ranging, from smart city infrastructures to remote healthcare services and immersive augmented reality experiences.


Shibaura Institute of Technology: Enhancing Electrical Fire Safety

At the Shibaura Institute of Technology, researchers have made a significant breakthrough in electrical fire safety by developing a method for detecting arc faults in low-voltage AC systems. Arc faults, one the leading causes of electrical fires, occur when two conductors electrically discharge because of poor contact, causing sparks as hot as 1,000°C. 

The researchers observed that when a copper oxide bridge burns at high temperatures, an arc fault occurs, turning the bridge into an insulator and creating a loop in the conducting path. In a theoretical simulation of this phenomenon, the team saw a unique current waveform, termed the "current shoulder," appear in arc faults with copper contacts. 


 No arc-fault state vs. arc-fault state

 No arc-fault state vs. arc-fault state under various types of loads. Image used courtesy of SIT

A current transformer can detect this current shoulder when the voltage disparities between arc-fault and non-arc-fault states offset changes in the transformer's magnetic flux. This discovery improves the accuracy of arc-fault detection and may subsequently reduce the risk of electrical fires in residential and commercial buildings.


National University of Singapore: Record Solar Cell Efficiency

The National University of Singapore has achieved a milestone in solar cell technology by developing triple-junction tandem solar cells with a world-record efficiency of 27.1%. This feat was accomplished by integrating a novel pseudohalide, cyanate, into perovskite solar cells—a move that not only stabilized the perovskite structure but also significantly reduced energy loss. 


The NUS triple-junction solar cell

The NUS triple-junction solar cell. Image used courtesy of NUS

The success of these cyanate-integrated perovskite solar cells in achieving higher voltages and maintaining stability under continuous operation marks a significant step forward in the quest for more efficient and sustainable energy solutions. 



Electronics Research Marches On

Have you heard of or participated in any recent research moving the needle in electrical engineering? How might the project affect specific industries? Tell us about it in the comments below.