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Jan 10, 2018 | By Troy Carter

This is why you need to know Army scientist Ron Polcawich

Defense Department names him Scientist of the Quarter, TechLink assisting businesses to access his PZT MEMS inventions

News Article Image of This is why you need to know Army scientist Ron Polcawich
Dr. Ron Polcawich, left, shows two graduate students a millimeter-scale robotic leg structure at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Maryland.

The Department of Defense’s Scientist of the Quarter was announced Wednesday – congratulations Dr. Ronald Polcawich.

For 10 years Polcawich has worked at the Army Research Laboratory in Maryland, namely in the Micro and Nano Devices Branch, where he invented new piezoelectric microelectromechanical or PiezoMEMS systems, components that can be used in tiny devices like robotic flies.

Why do businesses need to know who Polcawich is? Because many of his inventions have dual uses that improve consumer electronics (e.g. mobile phones) and are available to businesses for product development.

“Over the years, my team and I have had a strong emphasis on developing the technologies that can improve capabilities for our warfighters,” said Polcawich, who is currently on assignment at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as Darpa.

“In the area of radio frequency systems, for instance, we have created ways to enhance the agility of operations in ever-changing complex electromagnetic environments,” Polcawich said.

A micro-robotic fly wing hangs off the right front of a circuit board held by Dr. Ronald Polcavich.
A micro-robotic fly wing hangs off the right front of a circuit board held by Dr. Ronald Polcawich. The wing is just above his middle finger. (Army photo)

In the area of position, navigation, and timing, also called PNT, the team has been heavily involved with coordinating activities across the Army for research to influence navigation in GPS-denied environments.

“I am proud of the work we have been able to do most recently in developing relationships with the Naval Research Laboratory and several academic institutions to identify the fundamentals behind radiation effects in ferroelectric and piezoelectric materials and MEMS devices,” Polcawich said. “This three-year project has resulted in more than five publications over the last two quarters of this year, along with conference presentations.”

According to Gabriel Smith, the deputy branch chief of the Micro and Nano Devices Branch, Polcawich brings vision, holistic focus, and tenacity.

“Ron built a team from the ground up in the area of PZT and PiezoMEMS,” said Smith, whose research specialty is MEMS and micro additive manufacturing technology. “It is the leadership on his part that created synergy.”

Dr. Brian Metzger, a senior technology manager at TechLink, has worked with (and continues to seek) small businesses to license and commercialize Polcawich’s growing list of patented inventions.

“The first time I spoke with Dr. Polcawich I was impressed with his knowledge of companies already working with MEMS and the potential for dual-use in consumer products,” Metzger said Wednesday. “And having that type of researcher supporting a technology transfer license really increases the success rate of commercialization.”

Reporting courtesy of Army Research Laboratory’s Public Affairs Office. TechLink Editor Troy Carter can be reached at troy.carter@montana.edu or 406-994-7798.