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Crescenta Valley Senior Helps Invent New Technology

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"What are you working on?" is a typical question Debby Chung's friends asked her over the past few months. "I can't really talk about it." was Debby's typical answer. Secretly, however, Debby wished that she could.

What Debby was keeping quiet for the past several months was work that she was doing under the guidance of Dr. Sanza Kazadi at the Jisan Research Institute in Pasadena. The work that she was so tight-lipped about was the development of a new technology which had been designed by Dr. Kazadi and which Debby had been helping to fabricate for the first time.

The work wasn't easy. Debby had to figure out how to fabricate a device that had never been built before, and she didn't even know how to use the machines that she was using to build the device! Inside the JRI robotics laboratory, Debby found a lathe and a vertical mill. These devices became her best friends over the seemingly endless weeks as she struggled to pick up the skills that she needed to do the precision machining work needed to build the new device. After almost four months of trying to get the device built, Debby was able to build a very primitive prototype of the device Dr. Kazadi had envisioned years earlier.

The device worked better than Dr. Kazadi had expected, and was patented on March 1st of this year.
The device Debby had worked on for these months is a rather ingenious magnetic tool. The tool allows one to hold an axle suspended on one end in the air. The axle doesn't touch any support mechanism other than the suspended device, allowing it to literally float in the air. Because it is floating in the air, the axle experiences no friction as it spins, and therefore does not break down over time. While this functionality can be achieved using magnetic bearings, the current device uses permanent magnets. This means that devices using this technology can have this part of the device completely unpowered. Such an improvement will allow those devices using magnetic bearings to be simplified because their bearings can be replaced by unpowered versions, which are simpler and cheaper to buy and to use.

Debby has been doing this work at the Jisan Research Institute, which is a small private research laboratory specializing in swarm engineering and evolutionary computation. It is the only laboratory of its kind, providing long term research opportunities to high school aged students. All students are expected to publish their work in an international scientific journal or international scientific conference before going on to college. The goal of the Institute is to help students find their way to careers in medicine, science, mathematics, and engineering. So far, 86% of JRI's graduates have gone on to Ph.D., MD, or O.D. programs after college. This is the most successful program of its kind anywhere.

While Debby has enjoyed her work on this device and is still working on secondary devices based on this first one, she has been dying to tell her friends about her work. "They always plan days to hang out, but I would never be able to go because of JRI." says Debby. "My friends would always say, 'Why do you work so hard there? What are you working on?' I could never tell them anything, but I would tell them [that] if I succeeded, I would take them all out to an expensive dinner."

When asked what this device might be used for, Dr. Kazadi grins and says, "Almost everything." Because the device makes it possible to remove ball bearings from devices, it simplifies a lot of devices. Moreover, some devices that couldn't possibly be built because of the friction involved in their design can now be built using this device. "The first products using this technology are already under development," Dr. Kazadi says. "Our hope is that they will be in the hands of consumers by the end of the year. We fully expect these devices to continue to be thought up in lots of fields for at least the next ten years."

In addition to her great experience, Debby takes home one other benefit of the research. "We didn't know whether or not this technology would work before the project started. As a result, it's a wonder that Debby participated. Had she not done it, years might have passed before we got to this point. She has earned her right to share in whatever our lab might earn as a result of this development." explains Dr. Kazadi. "If everything goes well, Debby's portion might be more than enough to pay for her entire education."

As for Debby, she is rather nonchalant about the whole thing. "If it works, it works, but if it doesn't, oh well. I'll just have to start over. I didn't want to get too excited about something that might not work." While the current use of the technology allows one side of the axle to be held in the air, Debby and Kazadi believe that it may be possible to completely suspend the axle in the air. "I really want to see the completely frictionless axle. That would be really cool!"

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