What's Cool About Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems or MEMS For Short?

Aug 28


Jessica Gomez

Jessica Gomez

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Well, if you're into tiny devices there is plenty. These tiny micro-devices may not be the buzz at your dinner table yet, but in years to come they are going to give us all something to talk about.

You've probably seen,What's Cool About Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems or MEMS For Short? Articles used and taken for granted items that run on microdevices derived through MEMS Processes. Nano-technology may not have your attention, but the mighty power of microdevices drives technology to new heights whether you're excited about it or not.

There are many who have never heard the term Micro-Electro-Mechanical System commonly referred to as MEMS for those in the know. MEMS in a nutshell are tiny electro-mechanical devices that are closely related to silicon wafer processes for electronics. The main difference between silicon wafer processing and MEMS manufacturing is that MEMS has a mechanical nature that goes beyond the traditional etching and deposition used with thin films. Not too many people feign interest in the topics of microdevices and microsensors, however, the technology and potential applications are pretty darn cool.

MEMS technology takes place on super tiny structures with dimensions in the micrometer scale (one millionth of a meter). For the most part, almost all micro devices are built on silicon wafers utilizing integrated circuit technology. MEMS uses common wafer processes like thin film deposition to create integrated circuitry and then expands several processes beyond that technology to create micromachines.

MEMS technology uses three basic building blocks; the first of which is the thin film deposition on a substrate, second is applying a patterned mask using photolithograpic imaging, and lastly etching the films to the mask. The powerful micro-electronic capability combined with micromechanical components all in one miniature silicon substrate are allowing amazing advances in not only the field of microelectronics but other technologies such as photonics, nanotechnology and biomedical technology. This is paving the way for some very big advances in commercial market arenas, which I suspect will be getting broader audience of people excited about the topic of MEMS.

Recent research in MEMS fabrication has lead to a number of advancements which include: microvalves that control the flow of gas and liquid, micropumps, and microflaps that modulate airstreams. What's so cool about that? Well these devices are extremely small, but like ants these devices can perform mechanical feats far larger than their size would indicate effecting objects on a macro scale. A great example of this is a test done on full scale aircraft where microactuators have been able to steer the aircraft using only these tiny devices.

Qualcomm has recently developed the industry's first MEMS display for mobile devices. As stated by the Qualcomm development team, "This is a true technological innovation that offers low power consumption and superb viewing quality in a wide range of environmental conditions, including bright sunlight. The display works by reflecting light so that specific wavelengths interfere with each other to create color. The phenomenon that makes a butterfly's wings shimmer is the same process used in Qualcomm's mirasol displays for e-readers."

While the majority of people may not be aware or excited about the mighty power of microdevices yet, perhaps the benefits and advancements of these technologies in respect to increased information capabilities, miniaturization of electronic systems, new products created at miniature dimensional scales, and increased functionality of macro devices will ignite a spark of interest in the years to come.