Gwendolyn Hummel, a second-year PhD student in Dr. Matteo Rinaldi’s laboratory, was awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. She came to Northeastern in May 2013, when she began her research in the Electric and Computer Engineering Department. Since joining Northeastern, she had a project funded by DARPA, authored five conference papers (four of which were first-author), and filed for a US patent. Her thesis work strives to develop and optimize reconfigurable components for radios and wireless devices by making them smaller and higher performance. Of Hummel, Prof Rinaldi states, "Gwendolyn produces work of incredibly high quality and quantity, and her research has been very well received by the community at conferences. Upon joining my group, she rapidly became fully independent and I look forward to collaborating with her throughout her fellowship period to complete her PhD."

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program serves to recognize and support outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based MS and PhD degrees in NSF-supported STEM disciplines. From over 16,000 applications submitted for the 2015 awards, 2,000 fellowship offers were made to a diverse group of honorees. Individuals were selected based on their “demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering,” and join a prestigious community of past and present fellows, including industry leaders and Nobel laureates.

Hummel’s father, an electrical engineer himself, cultivated her passion for learning and discovery. Her life-long motto has been one of his quotes, “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible just takes a little longer.” Her hard work, perseverance, and curiosity have led her through engineering ventures from which she has received global recognition starting as early as high school.

Starting three days after graduation from Illinois Institute of Technology, Hummel jumped into her work with Prof. Rinaldi with reconfigurable micro electro mechanical filters. The ability to reconfigure filters in Radio Frequency (RF) systems, such as radio and wireless systems, is essential as technology advances. Specifically, there is a need for the filters to be smaller and capable of dynamically adapting to the needs of the multiple communication standards used in modern wireless devices. The ultimate goal of Hummel’s project is to integrate micro electro mechanical resonators with radio frequency switches, for the implementation of highly reconfigurable filter architectures. Hummel’s approach uses a new class of phase change material RF switches to reconfigure the electromechanical resonance of an aluminum nitride contour-mode piezoelectric resonator. She is developing a technology platform in which high performance piezoelectric resonators and phase change material RF switches are monolithically integrated. The dense monolithic integration of micro resonator and RF switches addresses one of the most crucial challenges in the RF MEMS field, enabling the implementation of a new class of highly reconfigurable miniaturized RF components.

This reconfigurable technology, if successful, will allow for single installation with adjustable frequency bands to accommodate the changing and expanding communications devices. With reconfigurable filters, the frequency bands can be actively selected without reinstallation of new components. This technology can be applied in radio and wireless systems such as cell phones. This technology enables a more efficient use of the extremely crowded and rapidly changing modern commercial and military spectral environment. Overall, this technology may prove to be a disruptive innovation for wireless communication systems enabling a more efficient use of the extremely crowded and rapidly changing modern commercial and military spectral environment.

This fellowship will allow Hummel to focus all her energy on her research, and hopefully accomplish the impossible a little sooner.