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NSA Researcher Dr. Dave Mountain: Developing Flexible Technology for Difficult Challenges

By Heidi Fosnaught, NSA/CSS Communications Officer

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Enjoying Maryland crab cakes at home and solving difficult technical problems at work; that’s what inventor and researcher Dr. David J. Mountain likes best about living in Baltimore and working for the National Security Agency. With undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical and computer engineering, he has spent a decades-long career at NSA performing leading research in a variety of technical areas including chip-on-flex process development, 3D electronics, and neuromorphic computing.

Dr. Mountain has been awarded eight patents throughout his career, with the possibility of five more on the way. The bonus for him? Maximizing the value of his research by sharing his technologies with industry, academia, and national labs through the NSA Technology Transfer Program. Many of his patents are based on innovative techniques developed to support a variety of NSA missions.

One of Dr. Mountain’s patents is the flexible integrated circuit. Traditionally, integrated circuits have been fabricated on rigid, inorganic materials such as silicon, which enables very high performance but requires flat packaging. In partnership with Motorola and 3M, Dr. Mountain worked for several years on conformal and flexible integrated circuits.

At the conclusion this project, Dr. Mountain looked for industry trends in new technologies that could further advance these capabilities. He discovered that the use of organic materials (like plastics) for building integrated circuits was emerging in the research community. A variety of challenges still existed to enable flexible organic circuits, including methods for integrating the individual circuits into larger functional systems. His flexible circuit patent overcomes many of these challenges, expanding where they could be used compared with those made of more traditional rigid materials, while providing cost-savings and improving efficiencies.

Flexible circuits can be used in a variety of applications, from wearable electronics and smart clothing, to automobiles and solar panels. These circuits are incredibly thin and can fit almost anywhere. NSA’s flexible circuit technology is one of the hot technologies for 2019 that are available to license through NSA’s Technology Transfer Program (TTP).