Powered By IEEE Program Saves Startups Money

It offers discounts for the IEEE Xplore Digital Library and Freshworks

4 min read
A socket attached to a brain held by a woman and a man holding a plug attached to a money icon.
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Running a startup isn't cheap. Many founders bootstrap their company to survive. IEEE is helping members who are entrepreneurs save money through its new Powered by IEEE program.

The program, developed by the IEEE Entrepreneurship initiative, includes discounts to the IEEE Xplore Digital Library and IEEE DataPort. Participants receive a US $10,000 credit toward the purchase of software from Freshworks, which provides customer-relationship management tools.

In addition, startups receive free mentoring from other entrepreneurs through IEEE's Founder Office Hours program.

There are now 13 participants in the program, which launched in March. Here is what the founders of BotBlox, TFWireless, and SciosHub had to say about how they use it.

HARDWARE FOR COMPACT SYSTEMS

IEEE Member Josh Elijah is the founder of BotBlox, in London. It designs and manufactures extremely small networking hardware electronics boards for small drones and mobile robots. Elijah says he works with some of the newest technologies in electronics networking such as single pair Ethernet. He claims its 2G5Blox to be the world's first 2.5G (2.5GBASE-T) Ethernet switch. BoxBlox's customers include Boeing, Google, and Tesla as well as NASA andNOAA.

"Our goal is to unify the mess of competing networking technologies into a single set of ultra compact networking products," he says. "I saw a massive niche in the market that no one was filling, and I believe I am the right person to make products to fill that niche. I wanted to use what I knew to contribute something positive to the world."

BotBlox is a family business. Elijah oversees hardware design and manages the company while his brother writes the software. Their father is in charge of shipping and logistics.

Elijah says access to journals and magazines in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library is helping him keep up to date on advances in his field.

"We've also found that our customers like to know we have some association with IEEE, as many of them are engineers," he says. He adds that because participants are allowed to use the Powered by IEEE logo on their website, it gives him credibility, which he says, "is especially important for a small company like us."

WIRELESS NETWORK

Amogh Rajanna is new to the startup world. He primarily was a researcher in wireless communications technology until earlier this year, when he launched TFWireless Inc. in Burbank, Calif. The senior member is working to commercialize a physical-layer rateless codec technology, a forward error correction/channel coding and automatic repeat request technology. It will make for more reliable and less costly transmission of information bits between the transmitter and receiver in a wireless environment, Rajanna says. The technology can be used for both space communication and terrestrial wireless networks, he says.

Rajanna developed an earlier version of the technology in collaboration with colleagues at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he was a visiting researcher in 2019 and 2020.

He says his startup has been awarded a U.S. National Science Foundation Small Business Technology Transfer Phase 1 grant for technology development in partnership with CalTech, which manages JPL.

He has used the Founder Office Hours program to get mentorship and guidance on how to launch a company as well as advice about the NSF grant from its seasoned entrepreneurs. He says he expects he soon will start using his subscription to the IEEE digital library to access its research and technical literature.

"I am completely new to entrepreneurship," he says, "so services and tools from this initiative helps with developing business plans and preparing for fundraising from venture capital funds and angel investor groups."

LIFE SCIENCES DATA RESEARCH

Joanne Wong launched SciosHub in 2020 to improve the data management, performance, and costs of conducting research in life sciences. The company's flagship product is a software-as-a-service and informatics platform that automates and simplifies the back-end data-management process to enable researchers to just focus on data analysis. The startup is headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y. and has onboarded seven life sciences researchers and IT developers.

The IEEE member has worked for several large IT companies as well as startups during her career. At the IT startup Cancer Computer, a chartible organization that provides cancer researchers with free access to high-performance computational resources, she saw problems researchers and funders were having when working with large complex data sets.

"While both understand and embrace the inherent potential of big-data research, most are unaware of or undervalue the technical components," she says. "These include the cost of software licenses and hiring experienced developers; the time it takes to adapt, develop and/or validate the software; and the post-data collection costs such as storage fees and server replacements."

SciosHub's platform centrally manages all the multiple data sources comprised of genetics, imaging, behavioral, biobank, etc and other aspects of life sciences researchactivities thus allowing researchers to capture, curate, compute and collaborate their research data on a secured scalable cloud architecture.

Wong says the startup currently uses Amazon Web Services but as her company grows, she plans to use Freshworks and IEEE Dataport for open access data sets.

"As with any typical startup, SciosHub is keenly aware of cost control," she says.

Wong is also a member of the IEEE Entrepreneurship committee and will be its 2022 chair.

"I liked what IEEE Entrepreneurship was doing so much that I wanted to be the chair and continue to grow its programs and outreach efforts," she says.

To be eligible for the Powered by IEEE program, an applicant must be an IEEE member who is CEO, founder, or a senior manager of a startup. Also, the startup must have been launched within the past 10 years and employ a maximum of 50 people. You can apply for the program here.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

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The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
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A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay
Blue

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.

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