Microsystems - The next big thing Page: 1 of 7
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Microsystems - The Next Big Thing
Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) is a big name for tiny devices that will soon make big changes
in the way we live and work. These and other types of microsystems range in size from a few millimeters to
a few microns, much smaller than a human hair. These microsystems have the capability to enable new ways
to solve problems in commercial applications ranging from automotive, aerospace, telecommunications,
manufacturing equipment, medical diagnostics to robotics, and in national security applications such as
nuclear weapons safety and security, battlefield intelligence, and protection against chemical and biological
weapons. This broad range of applications of microsystems reflects the broad capabilities of future
microsystems to provide the ability to sense, think, act, and communicate, all in a single integrated package.
Microsystems have been called "the next silicon revolution", but like many revolutions, they incorporate
more elements than their predecessors. Microsystems do include MEMS components fabricated from
polycrystalline silicon processed using techniques similar to those used in the manufacture of integrated
electrical circuits. They also include optoelectronic components made from gallium arsenide and other
semiconducting compounds from the III-V groups of the periodic table. Microsystem components are also
being made from pure metals and metal alloys using the LIGA process, which utilizes lithography, etching,
and casting at the micron scale.
Generically, microsystems are micron scale, integrated systems that have the potential to combine the ability
to sense light, heat, pressure, acceleration, vibration, and chemicals with the ability to process the collected
data using CMOS circuitry, execute an electrical, mechanical, or photonic response, and communicate either
optically or with microwaves.
Polysilicon micromachine components made using a five-level
process developed at Sandia National Laboratories. Photo courtesy of
P. McWhorter, Sandia National Laboratories.
Microsystems are already becoming part of our lives. If you drive an automobile, you are probably using a
microsystem-based accelerometer package that will trigger your airbag in the event of a wreck. This system,
made by Analog Devices, costs less than $5, versus the $50 cost of previous systems. Over 50 million of
these systems are now in operation without a single reported failure.
Existing microsystems can also spit out ink from your ink jet printer, monitor your blood pressure, adjust the
fuel-air mixture in your automobile engine, and project your transparencies to audiences.
Different physics at the microscale
Because of their extremely small size, microsystems are not significantly affected by inertia, momentum, or
gravity. This means that they can be extremely resistant to mechanical shock. For instance, microsystems
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STINNETT,REGAN W. Microsystems - The next big thing, article, May 11, 2000; Albuquerque, New Mexico. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc712082/m1/1/: accessed September 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.