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Innovation could bring super-accurate sensors, crime forensics
Date:8/10/2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A new technology enabling tiny machines called micro electromechanical systems to "self-calibrate" could make possible super-accurate and precise sensors for crime-scene forensics, environmental testing and medical diagnostics.

The innovation might enable researchers to create a "nose-on-a-chip" for tracking criminal suspects, sensors for identifying hazardous solid or gaseous substances, as well as a new class of laboratory tools for specialists working in nanotechnology and biotechnology.

"In the everyday macroscopic world, we can accurately measure distance and mass because we have well-known standards such as rulers or weights that we use to calibrate devices that measure distances or forces," said Jason Vaughn Clark, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering. "But for the micro- or nanoscopic worlds, there have been no standards and no practical ways for measuring very small distances or forces."

The micro electromechanical systems, or MEMS, are promising for an array of high-tech applications.

Researchers previously have used various techniques to gauge the force and movement of tiny objects containing components so small they have to be measured on the scale of micrometers or nanometers, millionths or billionths of a meter, respectively. However, the accuracy of conventional techniques is typically off by 10 percent or more because of their inherent uncertainties, Clark said.

"And due to process variations within fabrication, no two microstructures have the same geometric and material properties," he said.

These small variations in microstructure geometry, stiffness and mass can significantly affect performance.

"A 10 percent change in width can cause a 100 percent change in a microstructure's stiffness," Clark said. "Process variations have made it difficult for researchers to accurately predict the performance of MEMS."
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Contact: Emil Venere
venere@purdue.edu
765-494-4709
Purdue University
Source:Eurekalert  

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