MEMS are an exciting new development in the world of microscopic machines.
MEMS stands for microelectronic machine systems, and they are tiny machines with a ton of purpose. MEMS are created from materials that measure between 1 and 100 microns in size, and generally get as large as about 20 micrometers. Thanks to techniques like e-beam evaporation, MEMS can be “grown” and manufactured fairly quickly.
The materials used to create MEMS are not unlike the same materials used to make semiconductors. Essentially, layers of copper or nickel are laid onto a silicon circuit board. Ceramic is also used sometimes, because of its high resistance against biocorrosion. Polymers also come into play when the device is intended for use in biomedical applications.
During the process of physical deposition, materials are removed from one substance and placed onto another. A thermal evaporation system is often used to evaporate one material, and layer it onto another. Extreme precision is required during this process, lest the heat damage one or both materials. Vacuum chambers are designed with this in mind, and use the enclosed space allows materials to deposit onto the substrate at the optimal temperature.
MEMS are a long way from becoming the futuristic nanomachines that sci-fi hints at, but they are seeing wider use in the medical world today. MEMS are already in use in disposable blood pressure sensors and other biosensors. This technology will soon monitor our bodies, and hopefully make repairs, all at a microscopic level.
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