MEMS, Smart Dust, And Nanotechnology

There’s no question that technology continues to get smaller and more precise, but some innovative companies are taking extremely small technology concepts to a whole new level.

 

The push for smaller tech has its roots in the invention of the integrated circuit, also known as the microchip. During the 1960s, advances in microchip technology allowed more data to flow through smaller devices as the silicon used to create microchips gave way to more efficient designs.

In the 21st Century, nanotechnology has pushed beyond the microchip to give rise to concepts like smartdust, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and micro battery systems.

Through nanotechnology engineering, today’s technology products can be integrated on a scale so small that many components can barely be seen by the naked eye.

What Can A MEMS Device Do?

MEMS technology utilizes existing engineering principles to create actuators, sensors and other mechanical parts on a micro-level. These minuscule parts are created using micromachining, a type of manufacturing that can produce complex systems on a near-microscopic scale.

A MEMS sensor may be used to determine the directional orientation of an object by creating a difference in electrical potential using a suspended mass between two capacitive plates.

This engineering concept has been in use for sensor development for many years, but a MEMS device can bring the scale down to an unbelievable level while also providing levels of shock resistance as high as 100G and vibration resistance at 10grms between 10-1000Hz.

Along the same lines, micropower machines use MEMS engineering principles to convert heat and motion to electricity. This type of technology has a lot of potential in biosensing applications wherein a human body can generate small amounts of electricity through heat and movement.

A micropower machine can be implanted into a living organism where it harmlessly draws energy that can be used to monitor conditions like vital signs, the load pressure placed on joints and the movement of implants in a body.

Possible Nanotechnology Products

As for the aforementioned smart dust, this is actually comprised of a tiny army of MEMS machines that can be smaller than one 1mm each but that can also be networked via radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

Smart dust can be used in a number of applications to monitor conditions in an unobtrusive manner. In agriculture, for instance, smart dust could be used to monitor soil conditions, while in security, this technology could be used to track suspicious persons.

Military applications of smart dust could also provide information regarding environmental hazards in a combat zone to help soldiers avoid or mitigate the effects of toxic gases.

In everyday applications, many consumers already use nanotechnology without realizing it. So-called nano-cosmeceuticals are a combination of nanotechnology and cosmetic pharmaceuticals intended to act upon the skin.

These products use particles that range in size from 10nm to 1,000nm to achieve better coverage, deeper penetration and longer-lasting effects. Cosmetics that take advantage of nanotechnology often use nano-emulsion systems that can produce nanoparticles with a high surface area.

These nanoparticles can enhance the effectiveness of certain bioactive chemicals found in cosmetics like makeup remover and sunscreen products.

Smart battery tech involving nanoparticles has also made headway in becoming mainstream. Vehicle maker Tesla currently uses a version of smart battery technology that involves cylinder batteries that have been dubbed “Swiss roll batteries”.

These batteries work by using layers of electrode material wrapped up in a roll with chemical additives to create a slurry. While the Tesla approach to smart battery tech is innovative, it still involves a lot of bulk.

To counter this using nanotechnology, engineers have taken this same rolled-electrode design, miniaturized it and then multiplied it on a microchip. These microchips require zinc ion transportability in order to counteract the drying periods traditionally required for electrode material slurries.

The hope is that engineers can continue to work on making these micro-roll arrays smaller and more powerful as well as faster so that they will eventually serve as on-chip battery power for machines of the future.

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