Published: 26 November 2020

From career change student to inventor: meet Eva Bestelink

Eva Bestelink arrived at Surrey in 2015 as a mature student undergoing a career change. She’s now a published doctoral researcher whose creation of a new type of device, the multimodal transistor (MMT), could force a step change in the manufacture of electronic devices.

Eva arrived in the UK from South Africa in 2013 to study a masters in neuroscience after deciding to pursue a career change.

From neural prosthetics to electronics

“During my MSc, I learnt about mind-controlled prosthetics and developed an interest in robotics,” she recalls. “But working in this field required a degree in science, technology, engingeering or maths, so I had to start my higher education from scratch. After completing a foundation year, I began a BEng in Electronic Engineering at Surrey in 2015.

“On the very first day, I had little interest in electronics. In fact, the thought of circuit boards with components soldered everywhere seemed incredibly dull.

“My first lecture in semiconductor device physics, taught by Dr Radu Sporea, terrified me too. On a slide was a picture of a microprocessor. I had no clue what I was looking at. I thought it was an aerial view of Manhattan.

“Following the lecture, I browsed the recommended literature. I remember the dense text, complex equations and graphs with so many lines. All had little meaning to an untrained mind.

“But I was determined to work in robotics and resolved to complete my BEng. Nothing was going to stand in my way.”

And it didn’t. Eva says it took one week before she was “completely addicted to electronics”. Soon after that, she discovered nanotechnology, so she switched her course to a BEng in Electronic Engineering with Nanotechnology.

That led to a new fascination.

Switched on to transistors

Eva continues: “During a lecture in transistor physics, Dr Sporea described enhancement mode – which is were a normally off-device is turned on – and depletion mode – where a normally on-device is turned off. I immediately saw a parallel from my previous studies with excitation and inhibition in neural behaviour.

“Over several lectures, I envisioned a transistor that could replicate some form of neural control in a single device. I eventually approached Dr Sporea, who instructed me to write a paragraph on what it was I wanted to achieve and how I thought the device would operate.

“He then invited me to simulate devices during a summer placement at the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) in 2017. I was told to keep an open mind, as the device we were creating was based on his extensive knowledge with unconventional transistor architectures.”

Eva was asked about her thoughts on pursuing a PhD. Initially, she had no interest, needing to get back to earning a living. Then came a major breakthrough and thoughts of doing anything else vanished.

Eva recalls: “A PhD became my only interest. I wasn’t about to let anyone take over from my summer research on our device!”

Success story

Since then, Eva’s gone from strength to strength. Graduating in 2018 with a first-class BEng and awarded an ATI PhD studentship, she jointly filed for a patent with Dr Sporea on the MMT and she’s the lead author of their flagship journal article in Advanced Intelligent Systems.

She currently continues to work on the MMT, whose simplified design and ability to overcome long-standing degradation and manufacturing issues could signal the dawn of a new design philosophy for electronics.

“I’m committed to drastically improving thin-film technology. In the MMT, we have many benefits and new ways to explore circuit design, so commercialising is a priority,” says Eva.

“I hope others will be inspired by my story. Innovation is often the result of teamwork and a variety of background experiences rather than an individual effort. I look forward to the new discoveries and benefits we’ll learn through the global research community.”

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