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Ian Foulds

Gold medallist creates tiny technologies

May 29, 2008

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By Stuart Colcleugh

It seems appropriate that Ian Foulds loves reading science fiction because his work takes him to the very outer limits of factual science, where yesterday’s fantasy meets today’s reality.

"I make entire mechanical structures that are smaller than a human hair," says the engineering science PhD graduand and one of two winners of the 2008 Governor General’s Gold Medal — SFU’s highest graduate award.

Foulds is among Canada’s most promising young developers of miniaturized machines known as MEMS, or microelectromechanical systems. The microchip-sized devices, which include everything from tiny valves and pumps to microphones and motors, have found their way into thousands of products as diverse as automobile air bags and DNA analysis kits.

To look at the 29-year-old Salmon Arm native, though, you just know he doesn’t consider his work, well, work. He’s having way too much fun. "I actually made the world’s smallest catapult at one point in my spare time," he smiles.

Last year, he and a couple of engineering school buddies also created a team of nano-scale plastic "soccer players" for the 2007 RoboCup competition in the U.S.

But his thesis advisor, engineering science professor Ash Parameswaran, has no qualms about Foulds’ work ethic. "During his PhD work, Ian has contributed to 13 peer-reviewed publications, eight of which were journal papers, with two more journal publications in the review stage currently," says Parameswaran, who directs SFU’s Institute for Micromachine and Microfabrication Research.

Combine that with another eight peer-reviewed articles from his earlier work and you have a remarkable publication record for someone so early in their career.

Foulds is currently on a post-doctoral fellowship at UVic and plans to remain in academia. "I love the teaching aspect," he says, "and I definitely love the research aspect."

"Ian’s work has been wide ranging," adds Parameswaran. "His contributions are of great significance to the MEMS community and will have wide-reaching impact in the years to come."

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