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Big Things Come from Small Technologies

Since 1989, MDL has provided end-to-end capabilities in support of design, fabrication, and characterization of advanced components and sensors. Research and development activities at MDL have produced seminal contributions to the microdevice technology revolution.

MDL and its novel and distinct products enable remarkable achievements in NASA’s space science program. In addition, MDL products are used in numerous applications in other national priorities.

The work and contributions of the talented MDL scientists, technologists, and research staff hold the promise of further extensions of our ability to peer into the far expanses of our solar system, other galaxies, and the very beginnings of our universe.

At the Microdevices Laboratory, we believe Big Things Come from Small Technologies.


Robert Green

It is a privilege and of great importance to be selected as the third director of JPL's Microdevices Laboratory MDL. For more than 15 years, my research has used advanced imaging spectrometer instrumentation enabled by unique optical components invented at MDL. These instruments have been used to test hypotheses and pursue investigations on Earth, the Moon, and Mars.

Siamak Forouhar

At JPL's Microdevices Laboratory we conduct valuable research and make new discoveries by developing technologies and instruments for exploring the solar system, deep space and our own planet. I feel fortunate to have been selected as the MDL Deputy Director since the position was created in 2007 by Paul Dimotakis, former JPL Chief Scientist, and Jonas Zmuidzinas, former MDL Director.


Under the leadership of the first director of MDL and of all the subsequent ones, and owing to the work and contribution of the talented MDL scientists, technologists and research staff, research into and development of novel detector approaches and sensors for space are still in healthy progress today.

Since inception, MDL has benefited from the vision, commitment, and constant support of JPL senior management, especially the JPL Office of Chief Scientist and Chief Technologist and the JPL Director, currently, Dr. Mike Watkins.

Robert O. Green, Director
JPL Microdevices Laboratory

Siamak Forouhar, Deputy Director
JPL Microdevices Laboratory

Nikzad "Benny" Toomarian, Manager
Microdevice And Sensor Systems

Vision Statement

Enable or enhance JPL/NASA missions, instruments, and science by harnessing the powerful together with continuously improving microfabrication tools developed by the semiconductor industry to develop critical microelectronic components and technologies that are otherwise unavailable, from invention to space flight.

The work and contributions of the talented MDL scientists, technologists, and research staff hold the promise of further extensions of our ability to peer into the far reaches of our solar system, other galaxies, and the very beginnings of our universe. At Microdevices Laboratory, we believe big things come from small technologies.

The Creation of MDL

In his speech during the dedication ceremony in October 1988, JPL Director Lew Allen, explained MDL's genesis: "NASA, meeting with members of the Caltech Board of Trustees, requested that JPL consider establishing a center of excellence in space microelectronics." Indeed, this request came in July 1983 during a meeting of the Trustees' JPL committee in Washington DC, from Burton Edelson who had been appointed as NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Sciences just a year earlier. Edelson's proposal was actually a response to a letter from Mary Scranton, the chair of the Trustees' JPL committee, asking Edelson whether there were new areas, other than robotic exploration, in which JPL could take on the lead responsibility for NASA.

Although initially he may have been somewhat skeptical, Lew Allen became a strong supporter of the concept and delegated the task of organizing a new microelectronics program to Terry Cole, who was JPL's Chief Technologist at the time. Cole identified several initial research areas: photon detectors, especially for infrared and submillimeter wavelengths; solid-state lasers; neural networks; custom microcircuits; and parallel computation. The basic idea was to build the new program on a base of activities that were already underway at JPL and Caltech. Cole's initial program represented a combination of projects that would be done both at the materials and device level. This was to include detectors as well as lasers, and at the system level, for example, parallel computation. Device development required a new cleanroom with sophisticated processing equipment, so plans for the MDL facility were generated. By January 1987, the Center for Space Microelectronics Technology (CSMT) had been established with Carl Kukkonen serving as its Director, and construction of the new NASA-funded the MDL building was started. With the recruitment of new staff, acquisition and installation of new device processing equipment, and completion of the building, MDL was in full operation by 1990, only one year after it had started.

Restructuring for Growth

Over the years, the scientists and technologists who use the MDL capabilities had become distributed across many organizations at JPL. Although this provided good alignment with specific observational capabilities, it caused the MDL to lose institutional focus and dilute its identity. In 2007, under the leadership of Thomas Luchik, the organizational structure of the MDL had been realigned so that the vast majority of our innovators who require the capability of the MDL were now located in a single section within the Instruments Division.

Professor Jonas Zmuidzinas was appointed as the first director of MDL, with the core MDL groups integrated into a single section. Because of this realignment, MDL continued to see increased efficiency in operations.

The first year the Laboratory began publishing annual reports was in 2007, which detail the contributions to JPL and NASA that MDL has made and is continuing to make. Throughout the 1990s, MDL's work had been reported under the Center for Space Microelectronics Technology (CSMT) umbrella in an annual publication entitled "Space Microelectronics." The publication and CSMT itself disappeared as a result of the management restructuring. All the MDL Annual Reports are available here.


Products and Processes


Become a Partner

If your organization is interested in partnering with MDL, contact:

Nikzad Toomarian, Manager Microdevice And Sensor Systems (

Sarath Gunapala, Deputy Manager Microdevice And Sensor Systems (

Contact Us

For more information about the Microdevices Laboratory, contact:
Frank Greer, MDL Manager


If you would like to tour the MDL facility, contact:

For more information, visit the Public Tours website.
Public Tours Office | Mail Stop 186-113
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4800 Oak Grove Drive | Pasadena, CA 91109
Phone: 818-354-9314 | Fax: 818-393-4641

Work with JPL

Successful collaborations combine unique technical expertise from MDL with the complementary skills of our partners. These are often based on long-term relationships in which both the MDL and its partner institutions are familiar with each others' strengths, and both are able to pro-actively identify joint project opportunities.


Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. The facility is situated in the Arroyo Seco of Los Angeles County and straddles the city boundaries of La Cañada Flintridge and Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for NASA. The Laboratory's primary function is the design, fabrication, and operation of robotic spacecraft for planetary, Earth science, astrophysics and astronomy missions. JPL is also responsible for operating NASA's Deep Space Network.

JPL has numerous spacecraft and instruments conducting active missions. All of these are part of NASA's program of exploration of Earth and space with plans to send robots and humans to explore the moon, Mars, and beyond. While carrying out these exploration missions, JPL also conducts a number of space technology demonstrations in support of national security and develops technologies for uses on Earth in fields from public safety to medicine, capitalizing on NASA's investment in space technology.

For more information, visit:

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