Prof. Mercier promoted to Full Professor

Congratulations, Prof. Mercier!

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Prof. Mercier wins Teacher of the Year Award

Congratulations, Prof. Mercier! 

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Nature Biomedical Engineering: These Screen-printed, Flexible Sensors Allow Earbuds to Record Brain Activity and Exercise Levels

A pair of earbuds can be turned into a tool to record the electrical activity of the brain as well as levels of lactate in the body with the addition of two flexible sensors screen-printed onto a stamp-like flexible surface.

The sensors can communicate with the earbuds, which then wirelessly transmit the data gathered for visualization and further analysis, either on a smartphone or a laptop. The data can be used for long-term health monitoring and to detect long-term neuro-degenerative conditions.

The sensors, developed by a multidisciplinary research team of engineers at the University of California San Diego, are a lot less cumbersome than state of the art devices currently used to sense the brain’s electrical activity and the body’s sweat secretions. They can be used in the real world during exercise, the researchers showed.

While in-ear sensing of several physiological parameters is not new, integrating sensing of brain and body signals in a single platform is. The breakthrough was made possible by the combined expertise of biomedical, chemical, electrical, and nano-engineers.

Data from an electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain, and sweat lactate, an organic acid the body produces during exercise and normal metabolic activity, can be combined for a variety of purposes. For example, they can be used to diagnose different types of seizures, including epileptic seizures. They can also be used for monitoring effort during physical exercise and monitoring levels of stress and focus.

The researchers validated the data collected during this proof-of-concept study against data obtained from commercially available dry contact EEG headsets and lactate-containing blood samples. The data the flexible sensors collected were just as effective.

The team describes their work in an article appearing on the cover of the October 2023 issue of Nature Biomedical Engineering.

The researchers foresee a future, in which neuroimaging and health monitoring systems work with wearable sensors and mobile devices, such as phones, earbuds, watches, and more to track brain activity and levels of many health-related metabolites throughout the day. This would allow users to enhance  brain and body capabilities. The team also envisages a future in which the capabilities of existing wearable audio devices, such as earbuds, can be considerably expanded to gather a much wider range of data.

“Being able to measure the dynamics of both brain cognitive activity and body metabolic state in one in-ear integrated device that doesn’t intrude on the comfort and mobility of the user opens up tremendous opportunities for advancing health and wellness of people of all ages, anytime and anywhere,” said Gert Cauwenberghs, a professor in the Shu Chien Gene Lay Department of Bioengineering at UC San Diego.

Screen-printed flexible sensors and earbuds
The screen-printed, flexible sensors are attached to the earbuds on a flexible, stamp-like surface.
Full paper: In-ear integrated sensor array for the continuous monitoring of brain activity and of lactate in sweat

Why earbuds?

The team felt that the ubiquitous wearing of earbuds translated to an untapped potential for gathering brain and body signals conveniently, both for wellness and health.

“Earbuds have been around for decades, and in many ways were one of the first wearable devices on the market,” said Patrick Mercier, a professor in the UC San Diego Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “This research takes important first steps to show that impactful data can be measured from the human body simply by augmenting the capabilities of earbuds that people already use on a daily basis. Since there are no major frictions to using this technology, we anticipate eventual wide scale adoption.”

The ear has sweat glands and is close to the brain, said Yuchen Xu, co-first author of the paper, and a postdoctoral researcher in Cauwenberghs’s lab. “It’s a natural entry point–people are used to wearing earbuds,” he said.

Read more HERE and HERE.

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ISSCC 2023: Two papers + Demo Session

We are pleased to announce the Energy Efficient Microsystems Lab will help present two papers at ISSCC 2023. One will be on a vertically-integrated power delivery system in collaboration with Prof. Hanh-Phuc Le’s group, and the other will be on a single-mobile-device interrogator that enables LTE energy harvesting and BLE-to-WiFi backscatter in collaboration with Prof. Dinesh Bharadia’s team. More details available at ISSCC in February!  This brings the EEMS total ISSCC paper count over the last seven years to 19 (with 25 total papers over Prof. Mercier’s career).



Also, Prof. Mercier is chairing the two demo sessions at ISSCC this year, and both papers will be participating. Please be sure to attend if you want to see both of these systems working, along with many other exciting demos!

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Nature Communications: UCSD creates experimental ‘smart pill’ that could aid in fighting inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes

UC San Diego has created an experimental “smart pill” that continuously monitors the inside of the small intestine, work that could lead to better ways to spot and treat gastro-intestinal disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes.

The inch-long, wireless biosensor was placed in pigs and successfully took real-time glucose readings for periods ranging from two to five hours, according to a paper UCSD just published in the journal Nature Communications. The data was relayed by the pill’s tiny antenna.

Researchers used pigs because their GI tract is similar to the one in humans.

The proof-of-concept work was conducted by engineers at UCSD’s Center for Wearable Sensors, which broadly works on health-related devices.

The researchers will now try to find ways to make the smart pill smaller so that it can be easily swallowed by humans. They’ll also make it capable of taking a greater variety of readings.

The sensor is meant to be an alternative to the endoscope — a long, thin tube with a camera that is typically threaded through a person’s mouth and throat, down into their digestive tract. It provides a limited, short-term look at a person’s condition.

“Right now, if you have a stomach problem (doctors) can take an X-ray but that’s not going to tell you much,” said Patrick Mercier, co-director of the Center for Wearable Sensors. “And they can do an ultrasound.

“But you can’t access the gut without doing an endoscopy, which means you have to put the patient under. They stick a tube all the way down. It’s very painful.

“This technology offers a really interesting new avenue to access this (relatively) inaccessible piece of the human body. We could adapt it to measure all sorts of things. If you had acid reflux we could measure the acid in your stomach in real-time.”

Read more about this in the San Diego Union Tribune, on KPBS, or UCSD News. The Nature Communications paper can be found as an open access article HERE.

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UCSD opening huge, cathedral-like engineering center aimed at reshaping the human experience

UC San Diego is about to open a huge, cathedral-like engineering center that will exponentially expand the school’s efforts to do everything from turn plant viruses into human vaccines to program self-driving cars to safely navigate through thick fog.

Franklin Antonio Hall, which cost $180 million to build, will feature 13 “collaboratories,” glassy open spaces meant to maximize the ability of faculty and students from different disciplines to work together, possibly shoulder-to-shoulder with industry engineers.

Prof. Mercier’s Energy Efficient Microsystems Group will be moving into this new building as part of the UCSD Center for Wearable Sensors and Center for Wireless Communications. Read more about this in the San Diego Union Tribune article HERE.

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Prof. Mercier speaks about low-power WiFi backscatter communication

Prof. Mercier discussed his research in collaboration with Dinesh Bharadia about low-power WiFi backscatter communication at the 2022 UCSD Center for Wireless Communications Semi Annual Research Review, with his talk available now on YouTube:

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Nature Biomedical Engineering: A Multi-Analyte Integrated Microneedle Platform

Imagine being able to measure your blood sugar levels, know if you’ve had too much to drink, and track your muscle fatigue during a workout, all in one small device worn on your skin. Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a prototype of such a wearable that can continuously monitor several health stats—glucose, alcohol, and lactate levels—simultaneously in real-time.

The device is about the size of a stack of six quarters. It is applied to the skin through a Velcro-like patch of microscopic needles, or microneedles, that are each about one-fifth the width of a human hair. Wearing the device is not painful—the microneedles barely penetrate the surface of the skin to sense biomolecules in interstitial fluid, which is the fluid surrounding the cells beneath the skin. The device can be worn on the upper arm and sends data wirelessly to a custom smartphone app.

Researchers at the UC San Diego Center for Wearable Sensors describe their device in a paper published May 9 in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Read more at the press release HERE, or the actual paper HERE.

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ISSCC 2022: paper, forum, and panel

The EEMS lab, in collaboration with Prof. Dinesh Bharadia’s lab, are pleased to announce that they will be presenting a paper at ISSCC 2022 entitled “A WiFi and Bluetooth Backscattering Combo Chip Featuring Beam Steering via a Fully-Reflective Phased-Controlled Multi-Antenna Termination Technique Enabling Operation Over 56 Meters”. Along with co-authors Shih-Kai Kuo and Manideep Dunna, they will show how beamsteering can be enabled in a WiFi-compatible backscatter system that consumes multiple orders of magnitude lower power than conventional approaches. They will also demonstrate that the chip can also backscatter BLE data at ~100X lower power than a Bluetooth Low Energy transmitter.

Prof. Mercier will also be busy in other areas of ISSCC. He is the lead organizer of the Forum entitled “Chip Design for Low-Power, Robust, and Secure IoT Devices”, featuring presentations by authors from Qualcomm, ETH Zurich, Nordic Semiconductor, Broadcom, NXP, Renesas, Nanyang Technological University, and Texas Instruments on various IoT-related topics. He is also a co-organizer of a panel session entitled “The Next Trillion-Dollar Market”, featuring opinions on what this might be from by panelists from MediaTek, UC Berkeley, Sony, Trilogy Networks, NVIDIA, and IBM.

Overall, this should be a very exciting year at ISSCC 2022!

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CWS is hiring a postdoctoral scholar!


The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, at the University of California, San Diego, in support of the Jacobs School of Engineering multidisciplinary research in the Center for Wearable Sensors is conducting an open search for Postdoctoral Scholars in various academic disciplines, with a focus on those with a background in biomedical engineering with expertise in one or more of physiology, electronics, material science, embedded system design, programming, bio signal processing, and project management.

The University of California employs about 5,963 postdoctoral scholars (approx. 1,200 at UCSD) who contribute to the academic community by enhancing the research and education programs of the university. The postdoctoral experience emphasizes scholarship and continued research training. UC’s postdoctoral scholars bring expertise and creativity that enrich the research environment for all members of the UC community, including graduate and undergraduate students. Appointment durations vary depending on the length of the research project and the availability of funding. The total duration of an individual’s postdoctoral service may not exceed five years, including postdoctoral service at other institutions. The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) is the exclusive representative of the postdoctoral scholars.

Required Qualification:

Doctorate degree or its equivalent in the project area. The appointment is dependent on academic experience, scholarly achievements, skills and knowledge, and the needs of the center.

Preferred Qualification:

The candidate will be responsible for working with and managing projects funded and guided by a corporate sponsor in the areas of wearable devices for precision athletics, nutrition and/or general population health. The candidate will ideally have a background in physiology and/or wearable devices, with a specialization in one or more of the following fields: electronics, material science, embedded systems, firmware development, and/or bio signal processing. The candidate should have good project management skills, be able to lead project meetings, cross disciplinary boundaries, clearly document work progress and articulate such progress to academic and industry audiences, and be able to prepare high quality academic manuscripts and literature review white papers. The candidate will liaise with the corporate sponsor and their team of academics to apply the learnings and projects to a commercial setting. The candidate should share a commitment to mentoring and research training service to build an equitable and diverse scholarly environment.

Review of applications will commence immediately and will be ongoing. Salary is commensurate with qualifications and based on published University of California pay scales. Applications (CV, Research Statement, and Cover letter, at minimum) must be submitted via email to


The Office of Research Affairs at UC San Diego is committed to academic excellence and diversity within the academic, staff, and student body. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran.



Document requirements:

Curriculum Vitae – Your most recently updated C.V.
Cover Letter
Statement of Research, Interests and Goals – Applicants should summarize their past or potential contributions to the Center for Wearable Sensor’s needs as outlined above.
Misc / Additional (Optional)

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The Impending Evolution of Wearables

Despite ties to the fashion sector, wearables may evolve to the point where consumers may not even see the technology they’re wearing. Read more in this nice article, which extensively quotes Prof. Mercier, HERE.

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Wearables: where are we?

A nice article about the activities in the Center for Wearable Sensors appeared in the Triton Magazine, including interview excerpts with Prof. Mercier and colleagues. Read more HERE.

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Five papers at ISSCC 2021!

We are very excited to announce we will be presenting FIVE papers at ISSCC 2021!  This brings EEMS total ISSCC paper count over the last five years to 16 (five papers in 2021, one in 2020, four in 2019, three in 2018, and three in 2017), with 22 papers total in Prof. Mercier’s career.  ISSCC 2021 will feature the following papers:

  • Abdullah will present a paper entitled “A 98.2%-Efficiency Reciprocal Direct Charge Recycling Inductor-First DC-DC Converter”, which demonstrates how the gate charge of power MOSFETs can be recycling to help ameliorate the trade-off between switching and conduction losses in DC-DC converters, demonstrating extremely good efficiency even at low current levels, all with an inductor-first topology with good EMI properties.
  • Jason will present a paper entitled “A Distortion-Free VCO-based Sensor-to-Digital Front-end Achieving 178.9-dB FoM and 128-dB SFDR with a Calibration-Free Differential Pulse Code Modulation Technique”, which improves upon his VLSI 2020 work by demonstrating how to reduce the input voltage to a VCO quantizer through a DPCM feedback technique to linearize it without requiring a gain error correction loop, demonstrating a high-impedance VCO based front-end with no measurable distortion and a very large dynamic range.
  • Miao will present a paper entitled “Improving the Range of Wi-Fi Backscatter via a Passive Retro-Reflective Single-Side-Band-Modulating MIMO Array and Non-Absorbing Termination”. A collaboration with Prof. Dinesh Bharadia’s group, here we improve our Wi-Fi-compatible backscatter results by utilizing a Van Atta-based MIMO antenna array that redirects backscattered power back to the incident Wi-Fi source, all while continuing to ensure single-side-band modulation. This helps increase the range of Wi-Fi backscatter communication to 20+ meters.
  • Corentin (from Prof. Drew Hall’s group) will present a paper entitled “A 400mVpp, 92.3 dB-SNDR, 1kHz-BW, 2nd-order VCO-based ExG-to-Digital Front-End Using a Multiphase Gated-Inverted Ring-Oscillator Quantizer”. In collaboration with Prof. Hall’s group, this paper utilizes a new tri-state gated ring oscillator as a VCO quantizer to reduce the effects of mismatch induced nonlinearity towards a very high input impedance ADC-direct analog front-end with large dynamic range.
  • Abraham (from Prof. Gert Cauwenbergh’s group) will present a paper entitled “An Optically-Addressed Nanowire-Based Retinal Prosthesis with 73% RF-to-Stimulation Power Efficiency and 20nC-3uC Wireless Charge Telemetering”. In collaboration with Nanovision Biosciences and Prof. Cauwenbergh’s group, this paper will explore the design of a CMOS chip used to efficiently drive  an optically-addressed nanowire-based retinal stimulator system, using a wireless charge telemetry approach to push feedback regulation to an external wearable and away from heat-sensitive retinal tissue.

These are exciting developments, and we look forward to sharing these results in February 2021.

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Center for Wearable Sensors: Virtual Summit (FREE registration!)

UC San Diego’s Center for Wearable Sensors, which is co-Directed by Prof. Mercier, normally has a public summit hosted once per year on UCSD campus.  Due to the pandemic, we have decided to move this summit online, and are opening up registration to anyone – for free!  The summit will discuss wearable flexible solar cell technology, ultra-low-power wireless communication techniques using Bluetooth Low-Energy and Wi-Fi backscatter, warfighter performance monitoring, machine learning for wearables and IoT, and microneedle array technology for lab-on-skin applications.

Please find the registration information and agenda below HERE.

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IEEE Spectrum Cover Story: Why Sweat Will Power Your Next Wearable

Patrick Mercier and Joseph Wang’s work on biofuel cells and self-powered sensors is featured on the cover of the July 2020 issue of IEEE Spectrum. Check it out!

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A low-power, low-cost wearable to monitor COVID-19 patients

Engineers at the University of California San Diego are developing low-cost, low-power wearable sensors that can measure temperature and respiration–key vital signs used to monitor COVID-19. The devices would transmit data wirelessly to a smartphone, and could be used to monitor patients for viral infections that affect temperature and respiration in real time. The research team plans to develop a device and a manufacturing process in just 12 months.

The effort is led by Patrick Mercier, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC San Diego, and has been funded through a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant from the National Science Foundation.

“We desperately need a way to quantitatively triage individuals who are at high risk of carrying COVID-19, based on more than just their self-reported symptoms,” Mercier said. “In addition, those who are infected and are quarantining at home have no way of knowing how they are progressing in their recovery and/or if their symptoms are sufficient to warrant hospitalization before it may be too late. All of this is true not just for COVID-19, but for any future viral infection that may take the world by storm.”

Read more about this HERE.

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Three papers at VLSI 2020

The Energy Efficient Microsystems Lab will be presenting three papers at the 2020 VLSI Symposium. While the conference will not be in beautiful Honolulu this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the new online format does offer an exciting way to join regardless of where you are located in the world – and without having to travel! Presentations will be made fully asynchronously for convenience across time zones.

This year, Jiannan (Jason) Huang will be presenting a paper on a VCO-based analog front-end for biopotential recording that uses a background-calibrated differential pulse code modulation approach to increase the linearity of a VCO-based quantizer. Ali Nikoofard will be presenting an RF receiver that utilizes 16-FSK modulation to close a 1km link budget while consuming less than a milliwatt; a neat N-path-filter-based demodulator will be described. Finally, Po-Han (Peter) Wang will be presenting a dual-mode Wi-Fi/BLE wake-up receiver that achieves better than -90dBm sensitivity while consuming only a few microwatts of power for a wake-up latency of 1s.  These are all exciting developments in low-power and energy efficient circuits for biomedical and/or wireless communication applications.  Please join us for the virtual format!

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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering Ranked in the Top-10 (US News)

US News and World Report has just announced the 2020 Engineering Graduate School School rankings, and we are proud to say that the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering is now in the top-10!

This marks a sharp increase from the ranking in the ~15-16 range from when Prof. Mercier joined in 2012. UCSD Engineering is now ranked above University of Illinois (Urbana Champaign), USC, UT Austin, Texas A&M, Columbia, Cornell, UCLA, Princeton, Harvard, etc.  This is a very good indication of the great and growing research program here at UC San Diego.  Onward and upwards!

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New chip brings ultra-low power Wi-Fi connectivity to IoT devices

Everything needs to be online nowadays, from vending machines to smart speakers, but that connectivity costs in terms of bulk and energy use. Now researchers have come up with a chip that gets devices connected with 5,000 times less power draw than normal.

For manufacturers developing small, low-powered Internet of Things devices, that’s a significant step forward. It means that hardware can be made smaller, and use less energy, while still pinging the web for updates and information.

The chip itself is smaller than a grain of rice and consumes just 28 microwatts of power, a tiny fraction of a standard Wi-Fi radio. It can transmit data at a rate of 2 megabits a second (enough for decent quality video) at a range of up to 21 meters (69 ft).

This feat of engineering is achieved through a technique called backscattering, which encodes new data on to incoming Wi-Fi signals before transmitting them on somewhere else. This sort of piggybacking uses up far less energy, and that means a lot more flexibility for device makers.

You can read more about this work HERE and HERE.

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Prof. Mercier wins Outstanding Engineer of the Year Award

In its 69th year, the annual Engineers Week Awards Banquet, hosted by the San Diego County Engineering Council (SDCEC) on February 21, 2020, is bringing together leaders in our community to celebrate those who educate, create and advance engineering.

“Engineers make a difference in this world and improve people’s lives. Yet very few people know what engineers do. Engineers Week is about raising visibility of engineering. There are over 20 professional engineering society chapters in San Diego and many more student chapters. My goal is to expand their visibility and support their initiatives. The SDCEC brings the chapter leaders together to collectively plan for the future. We celebrate engineering achievements and recognize the work of local chapters and their volunteers during the Engineers Week Awards Banquet. It is also an opportunity for students and educators, exploring engineering, to meet experienced engineers and to inspire each other,” said Debra Kimberling, SDCEC President.

The 2020 winners who will be receiving the prestigious SDCEC Engineering Honor Awards are:

Outstanding Engineer of the Year Award
Patrick Mercier, Ph.D., University of California San Diego

Outstanding Engineering Educator Awards
George Youssef, Ph.D., San Diego State University
Krisztina Hagey, Hoover High School
INCOSE Co-Sponsored – Roger Dohm, Poway High School

Dr. Thomas Avolt Kanneman Outstanding Engineering Service Award
Lazaro Herrera, Success Innovations & Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers

Outstanding Leadership in Engineering
Katharine E. Baker, P.E., T.Y. Lin International, Engineers Without Borders

Outstanding Engineering Project
Athena Racing, Loxley Browne, Founder & CEO

The distinguished winners come from a variety of backgrounds, but the recurring theme is the advancement of engineering.

Professor Patrick Mercier has developed numerous groundbreaking technical advances in wearable devices, power management/energy harvesting, and near-zero-power wireless technologies for the Internet of Things. He co-founded and co-directs the Center for Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego, where he stewards academic-industry relationships and provides funding to UC San Diego faculty across engineering, medicine, and visual arts. He is active in K-12 outreach including the Hands-on-Technology summer camp and ENSPIRE.

Read more about it HERE.

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