Researchers from the Faculty of Engineering at Tel Aviv University (TAU), Israel, have set out to make sensors for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) significantly more sensitive and reliable than they are today, and they’re shrinking the sensors to nano-size to do it. This technology has implications for better functioning prosthetic limbs.
MEMS devices take mechanical signals and convert them into electrical impulses-they are able to “feel” and sense the movement of individual atoms. For instance, they tell the airbag in your car to inflate and rotate your smartphone screen to match the position in which you are holding it. The researchers’ new MEMS sensing device uses nano-size carbon tubes, about one-billionth of a meter long. Yael Hanein, PhD, one of the lead researchers, creates these tiny tubes using a process involving methane gas and a furnace, and she has developed a method whereby they arrange themselves on a surface of a silicon chip to sense tiny movements and changes in gravity accurately.
In the device developed by Hanein and her colleagues, a very tiny nanometer-scale tube is added onto much larger micrometer-scale MEMS devices. Small deformities in the crystal structure of the tubes register a change in the movement of the nano object and deliver the amplitude of the movement through an electrical impulse.
Until now, the field of creating sensors for nanotechnology has been primarily based on manual operation requiring time-consuming techniques, Hanein said. The material she and her team have developed is not only sensitive but is made from easily accessible methane and is cost-effective to produce. They said the material can be coated onto prosthetic limbs, inserted into new video games for more exciting play, and used by the auto industry to detect a potential collision before it becomes fatal.
The TAU team is working on optimizing the system, hoping to make it at least 100 times more sensitive than any sensor device on the market today.
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by Tel Aviv University.