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At the recent FLEX Tech show, I spoke with Jeffrey Diament, a recent Princeton University graduate and an engineering associate from sensor manufacturer Instrumems, about the company’s nanowire sensing platform that can measure velocity, temperature, and humidity. Since this is Jeffrey’s first career job out of college, he discussed his experience on the hardware and manufacturing side of things and offers advice to other young professionals.
Barry Matties: First, can you tell us a little bit about your company?
Jeffrey Diament: Instrumems was born out of revolutionary nanowire technology that was originally invented in Princeton University. The nanowires were first used to study very high Reynolds-number turbulence in a way that no other sensors could; they were invented to be the state-of-the-art, highest performance velocity and temperature sensors. Along the way, we discovered that they had some other measurement capabilities, such as measuring humidity, detecting bubbles in microfluidic flows, and even measuring underwater acoustic waves for use in sonar systems. Instrumems was founded to commercialize all aspects of this nanowire technology.
Matties: How long has Instrumems been in existence?
Diament: We raised seed money about two years ago, so we’re still pretty young.
Matties: How many people are in your company?
Diament: We’re made up of a combination of full-time employees and contractors, including three core full-timers and 10 employees overall.
Matties: And what’s your position?
Diament: I split my time between mechanical engineering and business development work.
Matties: You’re at the FLEX Tech show for your business development strategy. Can you talk about that?
Diament: The core of the technology is nanowire sensing capability. As I mentioned, we are discovering more and more capabilities of it as we go along. One of the things we’re trying to do is narrow down our market space. Being a sensors company, we have the advantage and disadvantage of having a broad range of applications, including anything from aerospace to natural gas, microfluidics, and e-cigarettes; systems in all of these sectors can use our sensors. Right now, we’re in the stage of finding what the most profitable ventures for us to pursue and develop specific solutions for are; once we hone in on those market segments, we’re going to focus our efforts there in the coming years.
Matties: Profit is one measure. What markets are you most interested in with profit aside?
Diament: For us, high-volume markets are attractive. One of the ways we see our sensor being useful is as a cheap, high-performance sensor—the MEMS production process we’ve pioneered allows it to be produced in high volume at a low cost to bring high-fidelity fluid sensing to a variety of markets.
Matties: What type of fluids? Is it any particular fluids?
Diament: Our sensors were originally invented to work in airflow specifically, but we’ve extended our capabilities to most non-corrosive gases as well as liquids. Sensor performance in different fluids is an active area of R&D right now. We’re seeing a lot of promising results, especially in microfluidics where the small scale necessitates a very low-footprint sensor, such as our nanowires.
Matties: You mentioned vaping is a big market too?
Diament: It’s a large, growing market. It’s also an ideal application for our nanowires because the device is highly dependent on the sensor. The e-cigarette/vape needs to be able to accurately measure the strength of the user’s inhale to deliver the correct amount of power to the heater and create the most satisfying user experience.
Matties: More isn’t always better.
Matties: Have you encountered any opportunities while being here?
Diament: Yes, there have been a few interesting opportunities I’ve run into. One involved a MEMS fabricator located in the Netherlands, which is currently producing organ-on-a- chip products. The company has flow sensors embedded into this module, but they’re not meeting the required accuracy specifications. That’s somewhere we can see our nanowires adding value—on-chip integration of our nanowire flow sensors to bring more accurate sensing to these organ-on-a-chip modules.
Matties: Why did you choose to work for Instrumems?
Diament: The opportunity arose when I was finishing my undergraduate senior thesis. I worked with nanowire flow sensors to integrate them on a small UAV for real-time control in windy environments, so I had a history of working with the technology. The professor who served as my advisor is one of the co-founders of Instrumems, and he presented the opportunity to me. It was an attractive offer because although I was looking at bigger, more established aerospace companies, I didn’t want to feel like I was getting boxed in. Even if I had some upward mobility within one of these giant companies, it still wasn’t as much my vibe to work for a larger corporation.
I like the small size of Instrumems because I get to do both technical work, such as running tests in our makeshift wind tunnel, and I also get to come to conferences like these to network with people. It’s really dynamic, and I feel a lot of personal meaning in the work that I’m doing because I can immediately see the impact it has on the company; it doesn’t get lost in the machinery of a larger corporation.
To read the full article, which appeared in the April 2019 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.