Credit: Christine Daniloff, MIT; iStock

Unlocking new science with devices that control electric power

Seron Electronics, founded by Mo Mirvakili PhD ’17, makes research equipment with applications including microelectronics, clean energy, optics, biomedicine, and beyond.

Zach Winn | MIT News • mit
April 4, 2024 6 minSource

Mo Mirvakili PhD ’17 was in the middle of an experiment as a postdoc at MIT when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Grappling with restricted access to laboratory facilities, he decided to transform his bathroom into a makeshift lab. Arranging a piece of plywood over the bathtub to support power sources and measurement devices, he conducted a study that was later published in Science Robotics , one of the top journals in the field.

The adversity made for a good story, but the truth is that it didn’t take a global pandemic to force Mirvakili to build the equipment he needed to run his experiments. Even when working in some of the most well-funded labs in the world, he needed to piece together tools to bring his experiments to life.

“My journey reflects a broader truth: With determination and resourcefulness, many of us can achieve remarkable things,” he says. “There are so many people who don't have access to labs yet have great ideas. We need to make it easier for them to bring their experiments to life.”

That’s the idea behind Seron Electronics, a company Mirvakili founded to democratize scientific experimentation. Seron develops scientific equipment that precisely sources and measures power, characterizes materials, and integrates data into a customizable software platform.

By making sophisticated experiments more accessible, Seron aims to spur a new wave of innovation across fields as diverse as microelectronics, clean energy, optics, and biomedicine.

“Our goal is to become one of the leaders in providing accurate and affordable solutions for researchers,” Mirvakili says. “This vision extends beyond academia to include companies, governments, nonprofits, and even high school students. With Seron’s devices, anyone can conduct high-quality experiments, regardless of their background or resources.”

Feeling the need for constant power

Mirvakili earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering, followed by a PhD in mechanical engineering under MIT Professor Ian Hunter, which involved developing a class of high-performance thermal artificial muscles, including nylon artificial muscles. During that time, Mirvakili needed to precisely control the amount of energy that flowed through his experimental setups, but he couldn't find anything online that would solve his problem.

“I had access to all sorts of high-end equipment in our lab and the department,” Mirvakili recalls. “It’s all the latest, state-of-the-art stuff. But I had to bundle all these outside tools together for my work.”

After completing his PhD, Mirvakili joined Institute Professor Bob Langer’s lab as a postdoc, where he worked directly with Langer on a totally different problem in biomedical engineering. In Langer's famously prolific lab, he saw researchers struggling to control temperatures at the microscale for a device that was encapsulating drugs.

Mirvakili realized the researchers were ultimately struggling with the same set of problems: the need to precisely control electric current, voltage, and power. Those are also problems Mirvakili has seen in his more recent research into energy storage and solar cells. After speaking with researchers at conferences from around the world to confirm the need was widespread, he started Seron Electronics.

Seron calls the first version of its products the SE Programmable Power Platforms. The platforms allow users to source and measure precisely defined quantities of electrical voltage, current, power, and charge through a desktop application with minimal signal interference, or noise.

The equipment can be used to study things like semiconductor devices, actuators, and energy storage devices, or to precisely charge batteries without damaging their performance.

The equipment can also be used to study material performance because it can measure how materials react to precise electrical stimulation at a high resolution, and for quality control because it can test chips and flag problems.

The use cases are varied, but Seron’s overarching goal is to enable more innovation faster.

“Because our system is so intuitive, you reduce the time to get results,” Mirvakili says. “You can set it up in less than five minutes. It’s plug-and-play. Researchers tell us it speeds things up a lot.”

New frontiers

In a recent paper Mirvakili coauthored with MIT research affiliate Ehsan Haghighat, Seron’s equipment provided constant power to a thermal artificial muscle that integrated machine learning to give it a sort of muscle memory. In another study Mirvakili was not involved in, a nonprofit research organization used Seron’s equipment to identify a new, sustainable sensor material they are in the process of commercializing.

Many uses of the machines have come as a surprise to Seron’s team, and they expect to see a new wave of applications when they release a cheaper, portable version of Seron’s machines this summer. That could include the development of new bedside monitors for patients that can detect diseases, or remote sensors for field work.

Mirvakili thinks part of the beauty of Seron’s devices is that people in the company don’t have to dream up the experiments themselves. Instead, they can focus on providing powerful scientific tools and let the research community decide on the best ways to use them.

“Because of the size and the cost of this new device, it will really open up the possibilities for researchers," Mirvakili says. “Anyone who has a good idea should be able to turn that idea into reality with our equipment and solutions. In my mind, the applications are really unimaginable and endless.”

Reprinted with permission of MIT News

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