Oralkan Receives DARPA Young Faculty Award

September 04, 2013

Dr. Omer Oralkan 
Dr. Omer Oralkan

Dr. Omer Oralkan, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has received the prestigious Young Faculty Award (YFA) of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for his project titled "An Ultrasound-Based Noninvasive Neural Interface to the Retina." The award comes with $500,000 over two years.
 
Dr. Oralkan's research project proposes to develop a conformal miniaturized high-frequency ultrasound transducer array integrated with supporting electronics, to be formed in the shape of a contact lens that can project ultrasound neural stimulation patterns onto the retina. Such a device has the potential to provide a noninvasive retinal prosthetic that can help restore vision for over 30 million patients with degenerative retinal diseases worldwide.
 
The objective of the DARPA Young Faculty Award (YFA) program is to identify and engage rising research stars in junior faculty positions at U.S. academic institutions and expose them to Department of Defense (DoD) needs as well as DARPA's program development process.
 
The YFA program provides funding, mentoring, and industry and DoD contacts to awardees early in their careers so they may develop their research ideas in the context of DoD needs. The program focuses on untenured faculty, emphasizing those without prior DARPA funding. The long-term goal of the YFA program is to develop the next generation of academic scientists, engineers and mathematicians in key disciplines who will focus a significant portion of their career on DoD and national security issues.
 
When asked for comment, Dr. Oralkan said, "This is a tremendous honor. DARPA is one of the most important technology research and development organizations in the world. I thank DARPA for selecting me for this award and for many opportunities it provides. We have already had a great kickoff meeting that gave me the chance to learn more about the agency, present my project objectives, and network with my peers and DARPA staff. I look forward to working with DARPA on this project."
 
Abstract: We propose to develop a conformal miniaturized high-frequency ultrasound transducer array integrated with supporting electronics, to be formed in the shape of a contact lens. This proposal is based on our recent preliminary experimental results showing that the retina responds to focused ultrasound in a similar way to its natural stimulus, light. The proposed device will be designed to project desired ultrasound patterns for direct stimulation of neural circuits in the retina. Such a device has many potential applications including possible enhancement of vision, overlaying patterns on the visual input, or as a prosthetic device to restore vision in blind patients with degenerative retinal disease.
 
More information regarding the award is available in DARPA's press release: Elite Group of Young Scientists Embark on DARPA Research Efforts.