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He once turned clay pots into acoustic speakers. Now he makes smart sensors for health applications.

Srinivas Tadigadapa, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is developing sensing technology for health applications. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Srinivas Tadigadapa recalls that he was “quite the tinkerer” when he was a child growing up in New Delhi.

He was fascinated by the inner workings of electronics and appliances, he says, and once opened up an iron to explore its heating system. On another occasion, he found a creative way to crank up the volume of music at home.

“We had these clay pots to keep water cool,” Tadigadapa says. “I realized that one of the openings in the pot perfectly fit one of my speakers. So I placed my speaker in there, and the amount of bass you could get out of this structure was amazing.”

Tadigadapa, who joined Northeastern in January as professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, remains driven by an insatiable curiosity. His research lies at the forefront of the interdisciplinary field of microelectromechanical systems, with a particular focus on developing micro and nanoscale sensors and sensing systems.

“I’ve worked in many areas of sensors over the past 20 years,” he says. “Now the advent of the internet of things has made this work even more relevant because sensors are the baseline acquiring data for everything.”

At Northeastern, Tadigadapa is designing smart sensors that could help doctors better monitor the brain’s electrical activity in patients with epilepsy.

“I’ve worked in many areas of sensors over the past 20 years. Now the advent of the internet of things has made this work even more relevant because sensors are the baseline acquiring data for everything.”

Srinivas Tadigadapa professor and chair of Northeastern’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

The neurological disorder, he says, is typically monitored by sticking electrodes to patients’ scalps and hooking them up to an electroencephalography machine—an often invasive and time-consuming process. But Tadigadapa is using magnetoencephalography, which measures electrical currents inside the neurons of the brain.

His ultimate goal is to develop tiny sensors that could be embedded into a flexible cap that patients would wear. The sensors would record the magnetic fields produced by neurons—a less invasive and restrictive method.

“If we can get really good with the sensing, that could open the door to better understanding what is a rest state and how epilepsy is triggered,” he says, noting his desire to collaborate with Northeastern signal processing and deep learning experts.

Tadigadapa is also developing bioanalytic sensing technology to monitor breath, saliva, and urine.

“With the advent of mobile devices, we have an enormous opportunity to create small medical health diagnostic devices that integrate with our smartphones and tablets,” he says.

Tadigadapa holds a PhD in microelectronics from Cambridge University and a Master of Science in solid-state physics from the Indian Institute of Technology. He’s received many professional awards and honors, including Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt fellowship and the Science Foundation of Ireland’s Walton Fellowship. He is a fellow of three prestigious organizations—the Cambridge Philosophical Society, the Institute of Physics, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers—as well as the founding editor of the IEEE Sensors Letters Journal.

Tadigadapa says he’s impressed by Northeastern’s growing body of research in robotics and the internet of things, two areas of particular strength within his department. As department chair, he’s focused on continuing the extremely successful trajectory on which the department has embarked.

“We’re living in a world where machines and automation have become an integral part of life,” he says.

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