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MIT Research Could Lead To Manufacturing Nano Devices At 1/100th The Cost

Microelectrochemical systems popularly known as MEMS have widespread applications in sensor & actuator modelling and the proximity sensors in our phones which adjust the screen according to the distance from a particular object. This nanoscale system is often used in the industry as a sophisticated sensing element. However, due to its their high production costs, they haven't been able to gain popularity in the market.

The reason behind the high costs is the complicated production technique, which uses semiconductor fabrication facilities whose manufacturing costs billions of dollars. Moreover, the demand of MEMS as of now is not that high and therefore the incredibly high initial investment needed can not be justified.

Two research papers from MIT’s Microsystems Technologies Laboratories have suggested a remedy. While one paper shows that a MEMS-based gas sensor, manufactured with a desktop device matches the performance level of any commercial MEMS chip currently available in the market, the other highlights the fact that the central component of the desktop fabrication device can itself be built on a 3D printer which considerably lowers the manufacturing cost.

External row of seven emitters that are part of a 49-emitter array
Both the papers together prove that the commonly used type of MEMS gas sensor, could be produced at one-hundredth the current cost without compromising on quality.

Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, principal research scientist at MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories explained that he along with Anthony Taylor, a British researcher from Edwards Vacuum, used “internally fed emitters” that have cylindrical bores which allow a particular fluid to pass through them. This fluid contains micro graphene (atom-thick form of carbon with remarkable electrical properties) oxides. Emitters are made to spray the fluid in a distinct pattern on a silicon substrate. After quick evaporation of the liquid, a nanoscale coating is formed over the graphene flakes which have high sensitivity , detecting even the most minute resistance variation due to interaction with the gas molecules, thereby making it work like a sensing element.
At the initial stage of the experiment, electrospray emitters were built using a conventional method. However, in December, in an issue of the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, the group led by Velásquez-García, reported that they have been successful in concluding that the electrospray could be made using a high quality 3D printer without losing its quality and efficiency.

Ultimately, the research group were able to lower the number of steps required in the conventional process, by modifying the production methodology and in the process devised a new pathway towards the goal of MEMS production using as less a temperature as 60 degree Celsius.

The new method is cost effective, takes help of cutting edge technology and is much easier to implement, which makes the research very promising with a hope to lower down the market price of gadgets.

Jan Dziuban, head of the Microengineering Division at Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland stated that from a technical point of view, the process might easily be adapted to mass fabrication. However, several very promising materials for new sensors, utilizing nanostructured materials, which have been published in top research journals haven't given satisfactory results as of now.

Source: MIT News

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