Steven Leeb, 33
Getting complex machines to work well is tough enough; getting machines to work together intelligently is much more difficult. Steven Leeb is attacking this problem in several areas of a field known as "mechatronics": a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics and intelligent computer control. Leeb’s forays into mechatronics could ultimately pay off in a remarkable range of fields: from artificial muscles to drug delivery to control of electricity and lighting in buildings.
On the biomechanical side, Leeb and his colleagues have developed gel polymers in which ferromagnetic materials are embedded. The polymers contract when exposed to magnetic fields, rendering them useful for artificial muscles and drug-delivery systems; related gels might be used to make braille and 3-D displays. Leeb has also developed a technique called nonintrusive load monitoring, a way of determining the major electrical loads in a building from measurements made only where the current enters the building. This is not only a simpler way to collect such data, but one that opens the way for intelligent power controllers and quality monitors. "I am enjoying just watching all of the neat stuff that comes out of Steve’s lab," says colleague Jim Kirtley. "Steve Leeb has already had a major impact and promises to be very influential in the future."