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Force-balance accelerometer used for microgravity measurements. Macro (top) vs. MEMS (bottom) [Courtesy of NASA]

MEMS Applications Overview Learning Module

Unit Overview
Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are very small devices or groups of devices that can integrate both mechanical and electrical components. This unit provides a brief summary of MEMS devices already on the market. It also discusses the various fields in which MEMS are used and the possibilities for MEMS in these fields.
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State three fields in which MEMS devices are being used State three applications of MEMS devices in the automobile industry State three applications for MEMS in the medical field

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What is a MEMS?

MEMS are constructed on one chip with electrical circuitry for inputs and outputs of the electromechanical components. MEMS can consist of a combination of components in various scales: nano, micro, and milli. An example is the MEMS artificial retina. This MEMS consists of an electrode microarray (shown in picture) that is placed on the retina inside the eye.
Prototype of a MEMS Retina Implant [Photo by Randy Montoya. Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories]

This microarray interfaces with external components (a camera and microprocessor contain in the patients glasses) and the brain (via the optic nerve). The camera image is converted into a series of electrical pulses that are sent to the brain from the microarray via the optic nerve. The brain translates these pulses into flashes of light for a low resolution image. This MEMS has been tested and IT WORKS! (Check out next slide)
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Retinal Prosthesis: What the patient sees

Images generated by the DOE-funded Artificial Retinal Implant Vision Simulator devised and developed by Dr. Wolfgang Fink and Mark Tarbell at the Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. [Printed with permission.]

These images show what a patient with a MEMS retinal prosthesis should see. Increasing the number of electrodes in the retina array results in more visual perceptions and higher resolution vision. In 2007 six patients were successfully implanted with the first prototype Model 1 device or Argus I containing 16 electrodes (16 pixels - left picture). The Argus II (almost 200 pixels) proved successful in phase two of clinical trials. Patients could find doorways, distinguish colors and even read! The third model (256 pixels middle picture) is under development and trials 5 are projected for 2011.
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MEMS Scale Pressure Sensors (PS)

A pressure sensor is a device consisting of a mechanical component (diaphragm) and electronic components.
These pictures compare a macrosize pressure sensor (70mm in diameter) to a MEMS pressure sensor. The left picture compares both systems. The right hand pictures compare the diaphragms. The MEMS diaphragm is being seen through a microscope. To create a MEMS PS the diaphragm and related electrical components are reduced in size and placed on a microchip as illustrated in the insert on the left 6 picture.

[Macro PS photos courtesy of Bob Willis MEMS diaphragm courtesy of UNM/MTTC] Revised 05/05/11

What are MEMS?

MEMS devices sense, think, act and communicate. They redirect light, pump and mix fluids, and detect molecules, heat, pressure, or motion. The interaction of electronics, mechanics, light or fluids working together makes up a microelectromechanical system or MEMS.
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Applications of MEMS
Applications are developed where miniaturization is beneficial: Consumer products Aerospace Automotive Biomedical Chemical Optical displays Wireless and optical communications Fluidics

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Types of MEMS Devices

Pressure sensors Accelerometers (inertial sensors) Micromirrors Gear Trains Miniature robots Fluid pumps Microdroplet generators Optical scanners Probes (neural, surface) Analyzers Imagers

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MEMS Sensors
Sensors are a major application for MEMS devices.
Three primary MEMS sensors pressure sensors chemical sensors inertial sensors (accelerometers, gyroscopes) MEMS sensors can be used in combinations with other sensors for multisensing applications. For example, a MEMS can be designed with sensors to measure the flow rate of a liquid sample and at the same time identify any contaminates within the sample.
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MEMS Pressure Sensor

MEMS pressure sensors use a flexible diaphragm as the sensing device. One side of the diaphragm is exposed to a sealed, reference pressure and the other side is open to external pressure.
The diaphragm moves with a change in the external pressure.
MEMS Pressure Sensor [Courtesy of the MTTC, University of New Mexico]

What are some possible applications for this type of sensor?

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MEMS in the Automotive Industry

MEMS pressure sensors sense, monitor and transmit Tire pressure Fuel pressure Oil pressure Air flow Absolute air pressure within the intake manifold of the engine
What other applications are possible within the automotive industry?
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MEMS in the Automotive Industry

MEMS pressure sensors sense, monitor and transmit Tire pressure Fuel pressure Oil pressure Air flow Absolute air pressure within the intake manifold of the engine
What other applications are possible within the automotive industry?
Air-bag deployment, throttle position, weight and sensing of passengers
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Pressure Sensors in BioMedical Applications

Blood PS Intracranial PS PS in endoscopes Sensors for infusion pumps

RF (radio frequency) elements incorporated into the MEMS device allow the sensor to transmit its measurements to an external receiver.
What are some other possibilities for MEMS PS in the medical field?
MEMS Blood Pressure Sensors on the head of a pin. [Photo courtesy of Lucas NovaSensor, Fremont, CA]

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Other Pressure Sensor Applications

Barometric PS - used in wind tunnels and for weather monitoring applications.

(see picture)

"Smart Roads" - millions of MEMS sensors are incorporated into roads to gather and transmit information about road conditions. (MEMS Applications:. All About MEMS. 2002.

Smart Dust is a network of micro-sized wireless MEMS sensors that communicate with each other through tiny transmitters. Smart dust sensors (such as MEMS pressure sensors) could be scattered around a building, a piece of property, embedded in clothing, or in road beds. (SMART DUST - Autonomous sensing and
communication in a cubic millimeter". Dr. Kris Piser, PI. DARPA/MTO MEMS Program, Berkley.)

Barometric Pressure Sensors (Photo courtesy of Khalil Najafi, University of Michigan)

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Lets do a little brainstorming for other applications of MEMS pressure sensors. There are other fields we didnt discuss, so think beyond automotive and medical. What about aerospace, environmental, military, sports, or consumer gaming?

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MEMS Inertial Sensors

Newton's First Law of Motion (also referred to as the law of inertia) states, "An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. MEMS inertial sensors are designed to sense a change in an object's inertia, and then convert, or transduce inertial force into a measurable signal. They measure changes in acceleration, vibration, orientation and inclination. This is done through the use of micro-sized devices called accelerometers and gyroscopes.
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MEMS Accelerometers
MEMS Accelerometer
[Photo courtesy of Khalil Najafi, University of Michigan]

The simplest MEMS accelerometer sensor is an inertial mass suspended by springs. The mass is deflected from its nominal position as a result of acceleration. This deflection of the mass is converted to an electrical signal as the sensor's output.
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MEMS Gyroscopes
A gyroscope is generally a spinning wheel or disk with a free axis allowing it to take any orientation (below left). Some MEMS gyroscopes use a vibrating structure rather than the traditional rotating disk to determine orientation (see bottom right).

MEMS Vibrating Ring Gyroscope [(Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories]

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MEMS Inertial Sensors in Automobiles

Airbag deployment "Smart" sensors for collision avoidance and skid detection Active suspension Automobile navigation Antitheft system Headlight leveling and positioning Rollover detectors

Polysilicon Connectors

3-axis High-Performance Micromachined Accelerometer (Each accelerometer senses movement in one direction. Notice the markings: x-y-z. The accelerometers are connected using polysilicon connectors.) [Image courtesy of Khalil Najafi, University of Michigan]

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Airbag Deployment Sensor

The type of inertial sensor used in air-bags is called a shock sensor using 3 accelerometers.
The sensor has an accelerometer for each orthogonal direction (x, y, and z) and corresponding circuitry.

Compared to the macro device, a MEMS provides a quicker response to rapid deceleration and more reliable functionality. It is cheaper and smaller in size.

3-axis Accelerometer for airbag deployment [Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories]

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Other Applications of MEMS Inertial Sensors

Motion and shock detection Vibration detection and measurement Measurement of tilt and inclination Anti-theft devices Home security devices Computer screen scrolling and zooming devices Gaming devices for portables and PC's (e.g. Wii and Playstation) Image stabilizer cameras and phones

MEMS Vibrating Gyroscope [(Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories]

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Other Types of MEMS

In addition to sensors, MEMS consist of pumping devices, gear trains, moveable mirrors, miniature robots, tweezers, tools and lasers.
These devices have found numerous applications with various fields such as biomedical, optical, wireless networks, aerospace, and consumer products.
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MEMS in the Medical Field

Precise dispensers for small amounts of liquids found in needleless injectors and drug delivery systems.
Sub-dermal glucose for monitoring monitor glucose levels and deliver of the insulin. (See figure) Medical diagnostics for blood analysis, cells counts and urinalysis. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for DNA replication. DNA microarrays for testing of genetic diseases and other biological markers.

MiniMed Paradigm[R] 522 insulin pump, with MiniLinkTM] transmitter and infusion set. A chemical sensor (C) measures the blood glucose and a transmitter (D) that sends the measurement to the a computer in (A). (A) also contains a micropump that delivers a precise amount of insulin through the cannula (B) to the patient. This is a continuous bioMEMS monitoring and drug delivery system.
(Printed with permission from Medtronic Diabetes)

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Clinical Laboratory Testing

The picture to the right shows a lab-on-achip (LOC). This device literally takes the laboratory testing of biomolecular samples (e.g. blood, urine, sweat, sputum) out of the typical medical lab and places it in the field and even at home.
Using microfluidics and chemical sensors, this MEMS or bioMEMS can simultaneously identify multiples analytes (substances being analyzed). An example of a home LOC is the home pregnancy test. This bioMEMS uses a reactive coating that identifies a specific protein found in the urine of pregnant women.
Revised 05/05/11 Lab-on-a-chip (LOC) Printed with permission. From Blazej,R.G.,Kumaresan,P. and Mathies, R.A. PNAS 103,7240-7245 (2006).


Other Biomedical Applications

What are some other current and potential applications of MEMS in the medical field?

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Optical Applications of MEMS

The objective for optical MEMS is to integrate optical, mechanical and electronic functions into one device. Optical MEMS have

already been quite successful in display technologies.

Two commercial devices Digital Mirror Devices and Grating Light Valve - redirect light to create high definition imaging from digital signals. Both of these devices are used in video projection systems such as rear and front projection televisions.

Texas Instrument's Digital Mirror Devices (DMD) have been used for several years in a variety of projection systems including video projection and digital cinema. The technology is called digital light processing or DLPTM, a trademark owned by Texas Instruments, Inc.
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TIs DLP (digital light processing) System

Levels of a DMD Array (left) and How a DLP system works (right). [Images Courtesy of Texas Instruments]

A DMD is an array of micromirrors (left figure). Each micromirror (between 5um and 20um square) is designed to tilt into (ON) or away from (OFF) the light source. The mirror tilts when a digital signal energizes an electrode beneath the mirror. One mirror can be turned OFF and ON as many as 30,000 times per second. There are thousands of mirrors in an array with less than 1 m spacing between them. The DLP 1080p technology delivers more than 2 million pixels for true 1920x1080p resolution. The diagram on the right illustrates how the DLP system works 28
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The Grating Light Valve (GLV)

The GLV device developed by Silicon Light Machines, is another micro optical based system.

This microdevice consists of several silicon nitride ribbons coated with aluminum. A set of four ribbons (two fixed and two moveable) produce a 20 m square pixel.

The ribbons are held "up" by the tensile strength of the material (silicon nitride and aluminum).
The moveable ribbons are "moved" up and down electrostatically. Electrodes are placed under the moveable ribbons. Variable voltages applied to the electrodes pull the ribbons down. When no voltage is applied, the tensile strength of the ribbon will allow it to snap back. GLVs are used in high definition TVs and are being investigated for use in maskless photolithography.
Grating Light Valve (GLV) top view and side view showing actuated state and unactuated state


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Other Optical Applications of MEMS

Optical Communication Networks Tunable lasers and filters Display screens on cell phones and PDAs Variable optical attenuators Optical Spectrometers Bar code readers
MEMS Pop-up mirror for optical applications. Notice the hinge allowing for the different angles needed to direct light in different directions. Also notice the track that assists in positioning the mirror at the correct angle.

MEMS micromirror arrays are the key components for optical communication networks. The micromirrors act as switches directing light from a fiber optic to a specific output port by moving up and down, left to right or swiveling to a desired position.
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[Image Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories TM SUMMIT Technologies,]


Other Applications of MEMS

MEMS nozzles and pumps for inkjet printers

RF devices Switches, phase shifter resonators, filters and variable antennas Fuel delivery systems that can control propellant motion Coating sensors that compensate for coating problems (adhesion, surface tension)
MEMS-based InkJet Printhead Piezoelectric or bubble jet based injection methods meeting the demand for higher and better resolution printing (smaller droplets). The graphic below illustrates a piezoelectric printhead. When a voltage is applied across the piezoelectric crystal, a minute amount of ink is released into the nozzle.

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MEMS Microgrippers

Zyvex Microgrippers [Printed with permission 2002 Zyvex]

Grippers or tweezers used in a variety of fields to clasp, pick up, and move micron to nanosize components. The microgrippers (50 microns thick), developed by Zyvex Corporation, pick and place other microdevices in an automated microassembly process. The gripper on the left opens to 100 microns. The gripper on the right opens to 125 microns.
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What type of MEMS device(s) could be used for the following applications? Wii hand controller

the presence of a specific molecule (chemical or biological) data in a digital communications


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What type of MEMS device(s) could be used for the following applications? Wii hand controller

sensor (accelerometer and/or gyroscope)


the presence of a specific molecule (chemical or biological)




data in a digital communications


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mirrors that can rotate, bend, turn

The automotive industry was one of the first industries to embrace the use of MEMS. Since then, MEMS have found applications in wireless communications, biomedical, aerospace, and consumer products (to name a few). The potential uses for MEMS are endless.
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Copyright 2009 2011 by the Southwest Center for Microsystems Education and The Regents of the University of New Mexico. Southwest Center for Microsystems Education (SCME) 800 Bradbury Drive SE, Suite 235 Albuquerque, NM 87106-4346 Phone: 505-272-7150 Website: email contact: The work presented was funded in part by the National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education program, Department of Undergraduate Education grants: 0830384 and 0402651.
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