Schmidt, Bulovic labs devise new MEMS manufacturing technique--on plastic

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February 26, 2010

To test a new technique for creating micromachines, MIT researchers deposited films of gold on a sheet of plastic; grooves in the plastic are visible as a series of horizontal lines.  Image: Corinne Packard and Apoorva Murarka

"Mechanical devices stamped on plasticMicroelectromechanical devices gave us the Wii and the digital movie projector. MIT researchers have found a new way to make them." -- Larry Hardesty, the MIT News Office, Feb. 26, 2010. Read more.

Microelectromechanical devices - tiny machines with moving parts do a lot of things these days, even if we aren't aware of their presence. For researchers who do know about them, devising an easier (and less costly) way to produce them and making them more flexible--literally for adapting them to just about any surface--have so far remained unsolved challenges. Until now.

EECS faculty members Martin Schmidt, also MIT Associate Provost and principal investigator in the Microsystems Technology Laboratories, MTL, and Vladimir Bulovic, principal investigator in the Research Laboratory of Electronics, RLE, working with RLE postdoc Corinne Packard, have reported in the upcoming issue of Advanced Materials a new technique for manufacturing MEMS which avoids the conventional photolithographic process that has limited their production and application.

The irony--not the only time that scientific/engineering breakthroughs are made--is that the researchers were initially aiming to develop an electric circuit by creating a plastic stamp with a pattern molded into it and then transferring that pattern to a silver film. When the stamp repeatedly pulled away the entire silver film, the eureka moment hit that the means of creating the electronics device (the stamp) was instead the end--the device itself. Possible applications of the new MEMS-on-plastic include sheets of sensors to gauge the structural integrity of aircraft and bridges, or application to aircraft wings to alter the airflow.