Minute Machines; Large Impact

Micro Machines
Image of a micro-scale frequency divider (from a scanning electron microscope) with five vibrating beam elements, highlighted in colors. The inset shows a simplified mechanical model of the device. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Turner, UC-Santa Barbara.

Florida Tech Receives NSF Grant to Investigate Micro-Scale Vibratory Systems

Micro-electro-mechanical systems, very small devices on the scale of 1-100 micrometers; have rich research potential.

To give you an idea how small these machines are, here is an example of a dust mite on top of a MEMS (Courtesy, Sandia National Labs)


MEMS are important elements to smart phones, wearable electronics and entertainment consoles. In the automotive industry, MEMS can be used in pressure sensors, air bags, tire pressure monitoring and other safety features. Thanks to these far-reaching applications, economic research predicts that the MEMS market will reach $26 billion by 2022.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Florida Institute of Technology’s Steven Shaw $300,000 to develop techniques that will contribute to the design and optimization of specific micro-electro-mechanical-systems that use resonant vibrations. Potential applications include time-keeping, frequency conversion, and inertial sensors.

Most commercial devices that use vibratory MEMS are designed with the vibrating elements operating in their linear (small amplitude) range so the designer can rely on relatively simple models to analyze their response.  But, says Shaw, this limits their operating range and doesn’t take full advantage of their potential.

Shaw proposes an effort to embrace nonlinear (large amplitude) behavior of resonators, to explore the attendant limits, and then develop and experimentally demonstrate design methods that would optimize performance.

Florida Tech students will help perform the research and benefit from the grant with mentorships, multi-disciplinary training, and new classroom materials used for the research. This project is a joint effort between Shaw and Kimberly Turner at the University of California-Santa Barbara, where the experimental component of the research will be carried out.

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