Research on a device that could improve the public safety of watching high-definition television has led to a prestigious international Myron Zucker Award for an engineering student at a Tennessee university for the first time.
Michael Davis Smith of Cookeville, an electrical engineering graduate of Tennessee Tech University, won third prize for his design of an especially rugged and stable working prototype that can easily discern small changes in photon energy emissions, a measurement necessary to predict the radiation exposure HDTV creates.
"The primary motivation for this design was concern for public safety," said Smith. "The manufacturers of high definition television need to be very careful in considering the serious industry issue of studying the radiation exposure their products produce."
Smith, with the support of his special research and design course sponsor, TTU professor Carl A. Ventrice, turned to high definition television and predicted that harmful X-ray radiation would increase in conventional cathode-ray tube type televisions and computer monitors.
"Measuring the energy emissions generated by HDTV is difficult because you can't feel or see changes in photons," said Smith. "The X-ray or gamma ray photon wavelength remains outside the eye's sensitivity requiring a special instrument to detect and, at the same time, measure its level of energy.
"What the newly-enhanced device does is measure subtle differences in energy levels as the photon strikes a detection material," he said. "This is significant because we can accurately measure the physical reality of the level and intensity of the energy."
Smith tailored the design to be especially sensitive to a predicted continuous range of energy levels emitted by CRT’s, used in television screens and many computer monitors. He says it's an important step in making sure radiation levels are maintained safely within government specified standards.
"To create a more life-like image, television manufacturers can increase the electron gun potential at the back of the television, but to do so the electrons must travel much faster to the CRT face," said Smith. "The laws of conservation of momentum and energy require that the X-ray energy emissions of the television increase in this case which can cause permanent damage to soft tissues in viewers' eyes leading to eye disease."
Smith's thesis, "Research, Design, and Construction of a Rugged Proportional Detector/Counter With Optimized Energy Resolution," placed him in the top echelon of electrical and electronics engineers.
"The top three reviewed papers are selected for this award representing the stellar few -- the very best of the world's undergraduate electrical engineering students," said Robert D. Lorenz, president of the Industrial Applications Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Annually, the Industrial Applications Society of the IEEE hosts the Zucker competition for student teams. Original design solutions are submitted from colleges around the world for the top three spots. Smith entered this year's competition as a one-man team competing against multiple-member teams and was invited to attend IAS's 36th annual conference in Chicago, Ill., to receive his award. The industrial sponsor was Spellman High Voltage Electronic Corp. of Hauppauge, N.Y., which provided a power supply for the optimized design.
Specific award selection criteria must be met: the solution of the design problem must demonstrate practical application of engineering fundamentals and engineering judgment, the written report must show quality, and there must be evidence that the industrial entity, if any, provides appropriate guidance and access to an applications environment.
Smith received a $2000 award for expenses to the annual conference and an honorarium certificate with a $400 cash honorarium to follow. Tennessee Tech's Electrical Engineering Department will receive an additional certificate and cash honorarium for his efforts.
"The completed project encompassed several engineering disciplines providing a comprehensive design experience," said Smith. "Certainly, money was not the motivating factor, but a desire to gain experience in conducting research, and to apply accumulated mathematics and scientific knowledge in some practical way. The trip to the conference provided me with an invaluable experience to talk with engineers from around the globe -- to share in a professionally nurturing atmosphere of technical fellowship. The long hours and hard work paid off quite well.
"Thanks to all who made this project possible, particularly Dr. Ventrice. His encouraging support and confidence rallied creativity in me to realize this successful outcome."
Smith graduated cum laude with a bachelor's of science in electrical engineering from TTU in August 2001. Before returning to school full time, he worked in Chattanooga with GE Medical Systems for 11 years. He survives his deceased parents, John Hunter Smith of Livingston, Tenn., and Lois Helen (Smith) Wright of Cookeville, Tenn.