Advertisement

Blog

Step Aside, MEMS: Here Comes NEMS

I think it is safe to say that MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) has become a mature process/manufacturing technology. In the analog world, MEMS sensors (including microphones) have become mainstream, high-volume products used in cars, cellphones, game controllers, inkjet printers, and countless other applications. MEMS circuit elements are being used in various ways to replace quartz resonators, which have been unable to take advantage of the relentless shrinks available in microelectronic manufacturing (ironic, since quartz is also a silicon-based material).

From the early days when only a few brave souls at specialty manufacturing companies dared to try to make MEMS devices with any sort of yield, many foundries now offer MEMS processing. TSMC offers MEMS at the 180/150nm process node and is developing it at the 130/110nm node. STMicroelectronics offers multiple wafer fabrication and assembly sites.

So now that Micro is mature, it is inevitable that something smaller must emerge… and that something is NEMS (nano-electromechanical systems).

I read an interesting article the other day about researchers at Columbia University using a graphene NEMS device in an analog circuit. Graphene is a planar sheet of carbon atoms, one atom thick (often used in multilayer forms). It is claimed to be the strongest material known to man.

The researchers used a 2-4 micron long graphene device to build an FM radio transmitter, operating at about 100 MHz, in the middle of the FM broadcast band. The graphene device is used as a VCO, driven by audio as a crude direct FM modulator. They recorded the transmission as received on a normal FM receiver: It is noisy, and the actual content is a rather annoying song (at least to my taste), but it demonstrated a use of a new material in an electronic system. The demonstration is obviously (and literally) science-project-level, and not really a ready-for-prime-time technology. But it’s a start.

Nanotechnology seems to be everywhere, and it's something of a buzzword that is used somewhat liberally in everything from food additives and cosmetics to electronics. I’ve seen some interesting electronics applications of nanotechnology proposed. It turns out that carbon nanotubes are lightweight, strong, and very conductive at room temperature.

If the manufacturing cost can be reduced as production increases, the material can replace copper wires in lots of applications, from power transmission lines to airborne systems. Woven into a cloth, this stuff is great for lightweight, flexible, electromagnetic shielding. Some people are looking into using deposited carbon nanofilms for interconnect on ICs, since aluminum is becoming a problem.

I wonder if anyone out there is using any sort of nanotechnology to solve analog problems yet. Are you?

Related posts:

26 comments on “Step Aside, MEMS: Here Comes NEMS

  1. Victor Lorenzo
    December 9, 2013

    Dough,

    I assisted some years ago to a conference where one researcher was presenting several sensor constructs that could be miniaturized and placed in the tip of a hypodermic needle, including the transducers and amplifiers. At present some sensors are readily available in that form factor (hypodermic needle).

  2. Davidled
    December 9, 2013

    MEMS based nano sensor is very attractive and many applications are increasing to use this in the different industry. But, I think that it is more concern for reliability and durability when integrating with interface circuit because of the compressed size and manufacture process for high density circuit.     

  3. goafrit2
    December 9, 2013

    I wonder if anyone out there is using any sort of nanotechnology to solve analog problems yet. Are you?

    The big question is this – what have we accomplished for all the talks of nanotechnology in electronics? I am yet to feel and see the advances they promised 10 years ago that nanotechnology will bring! Nanoelectronics is still at primitive level with few production/manufacturing prospects

  4. goafrit2
    December 9, 2013

    But, I think that it is more concern for reliability and durability when integrating with interface circuit because of the compressed size and manufacture process for high density circuit.     

    The noise factor when you want to interface MEMS sensor part to the electronics is hugely challenging. I mean, it takes a lot of efforts. Mutiple that by a factor of 100 (micro to nano), you have a really big problem. MEMS is still a maturing product. It will take a while before we move to NEMS. 

  5. Netcrawl
    December 10, 2013

    @goafrit2 I agree with you, its will take more time before we can move to NEMS, the reality is there still lot of works needed, the amount of data is extremely limited due to its complexity. We lack knowledge and accurate analysis.

    NEMS offers huge potential, it can significantly impact many areas of electronics nd eventually change everything and replace MEMS. But NEMS stilll in infancy.

  6. Netcrawl
    December 10, 2013

    Good point @goafrit2! there still lot of works to do here, we're still working on it. nanotechnology is expected to impact many areas of technology, theres  a lot of potential applications something that could change everything, by building devices at nano range the entire electronics industry benefits. Among these are low costs of design and production, and a possible decrease in overall power consumption.

  7. Netcrawl
    December 10, 2013

    Not just size, NEMS increased sensitivity could lead to a more efficient sensor, able to detect vibrations and forces at atomic level, even chemical signals.  

  8. Netcrawl
    December 10, 2013

    @goafrit2 yes, you're right, nanotechnology still in infancy, we still lack knowledge and experience in dealing with these, We still tied with MEMS I don't see any swift transition in the future, although we experienced rapid growth in MEMS space but challenges remain, we still face serious challenges in fabrication and application areas. 

  9. Vishal Prajapati
    December 11, 2013

    It is noisy, and the actual content is a rather annoying song


    Gangnam Style ” (Korean : 강남스타일, IPA:  [kaŋnam sɯtʰail]) is the 18th K-pop single by the South Korean musician Psy. The song was released in July 2012 as the lead single of his sixth studio album Psy 6 (Six Rules), Part 1 , and debuted at number one on South Korea's Gaon Chart. On December 21, 2012, “Gangnam Style” became the first YouTube video to reach a billion views. As of December 9, 2013, the music video has been viewed over 1.844 billion times on YouTube, and it is the site's most watched video after surpassing Justin Bieber's single “Baby“.

     

    Source: Wikipedia

  10. Vishal Prajapati
    December 11, 2013

    How is it being programmed? Does it use harware programming language like VHDL or Verilog?

     

    How is graphen thing manufactured? Does it need foundries similar to semiconductor manufacturing? If yes, being university project, do they have such budget to get it manufactured on even trial basis?

     

    But surely it is next level thing. Really amazing. NEMS…

  11. Doug21201
    December 11, 2013

    Yeah, I am familiar with “Gangnam Style”…I still find it annoying. On the other hand, if they had played some better music…classical, or even classic rock, I would have complained about the noise messing up the music.

  12. goafrit2
    December 12, 2013

    >> But NEMS stilll in infancy.

    Nanotechnology, in my opinion, has failed to deliver. I know maybe in 2-3 decades, it will be up to speed. Moving from MEMS to NEMS may not make a lot of sense. The deal perfecting MEMS and that means processes as there are still many great stuffs inside it

  13. goafrit2
    December 12, 2013

    >> Among these are low costs of design and production, and a possible decrease in overall power consumption.

    Actually your static power goes up at nanometer range because you have many kinds of issues associated with nanoelectronics. Generally, there are enormous benefits at the nanoscale, but that will not happen overnight.

  14. goafrit2
    December 12, 2013

    >> How is it being programmed? Does it use harware programming language like VHDL or Verilog?

    It does not matter. VHDL is a digital constructs. Either it is nano or micro, the key is that it works with logic. That is not an issue in this space. The challenge is how to get the transistors or the materials perform as desired because oxide tunneling, junction breakdown, etc are big probems in the nanometer range. Expect the sensor to be more noisier as the mechanical beam will be smaller and particles having more sway

  15. goafrit2
    December 12, 2013

    >>  If yes, being university project, do they have such budget to get it manufactured on even trial basis?

    If you a top-notch research, many companies can put your works in their runs. They do that most of the time to help product pipelines. Also, some of these products are funded by companies and they assist in the fabrication since it is extremely expensive for schools

  16. Vishal Prajapati
    December 13, 2013

    That is such a nice collaboration between Universities and Industries. Such efforts have been made since years here in India. But very less number of good projects has been backed up. Or the other reason is the level of project is not good enough to be backed up due to lack of academic support. The bright students who can affort to go abroad, will go abroad and have done some very extensive research projects. But not in India.

  17. Netcrawl
    December 13, 2013

    I agree, collaboration between universities and companies is a good starting point, it could lead to more innovation and opportunities, information sharing is crucial in today's high technology game. If you're not making “any collaborative works” there's a big chance that your company might lost its competitiveness in the market.     

  18. fasmicro
    December 16, 2013

    I personally think that most industry-university collaborations in the developing world are structured to be charities and marketing plans. Most of the companies do not expect anything big from those projects because the quality is low.

  19. fasmicro
    December 16, 2013

    In my strategy, I will prefer to buy companies than spending money on collaborations with universities. The problem is that whe you do something anyone can have access, you do not gain any edge. That is one problem I have with schools. It never stays in the lab and you can fund things that end up arming your competitors

  20. Victor Lorenzo
    December 16, 2013

    @fasmicro, “The problem is that whe you do something anyone can have access, you do not gain any edge

    Interesting point of view. I used to be of the oppinion that closed source was better than open source in order to preserve know-how. But now I've changed at least a little bit after seen so much talent coming out from open source and hackers communities. Why not taking profit from that kind of collaboration, disclosing part of the code or using public domain tools and libraries, improving them and collaborate with community returning back the results?

    It comes to my mind that, at the end, probably the edge is not in holding completely secret how the 'thing' is inside, probably the edge resides in how innovative it is and in providing the best in class service for it, that really makes a difference.

  21. Victor Lorenzo
    December 16, 2013

    @Netcrawl, “(…) collaboration between universities and companies is a good starting point ” and sometimes that collaboration ends-up with a new start-up/spin-off founded by some (or one) department professor(s) and/or PhD/MSc students, with graduate and doc/post-doc students working 'for free' on those projects.

  22. goafrit2
    December 16, 2013

    @Victor, good point. I began like you with the notion that when things are open, the world is better. Unfortunately, I have not seen any truly successful public traded open source company. If Linux had gone closed, it might have made more money for his family. Where will Bill Gates will be if Windows is open? The fact is this – there is no A-grade idea that is open (except Linux) and anyone that comes out with how to cure HIV and post it on Google is good but may hast lost an opportunity to change another portion of this earth by the money he will make

  23. goafrit2
    December 16, 2013

    >>  and sometimes that collaboration ends-up with a new start-up/spin-off founded by some (or one) department professor(s) and/or PhD/MSc students

    But the company that funded that research never owns those startups. Sure, can have the first option to pass an opportunity to acquire the company. It is a great way to support universities but anyone that banks that will bring innovation is not serious.

  24. Vishal Prajapati
    December 16, 2013

    You are right. Most of the time they are just a marketing stretegy.

     

    The reason for low quality is not enough resources and guidance provided in the most of the institutes and universities. They are just selling degrees and not knowledge.

     

    There are private sector research foundations which gives great support to really worth projects. Like Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

  25. fasmicro
    December 27, 2013

    >> The reason for low quality is not enough resources and guidance provided in the most of the institutes and universities. 

    Universities can have high quality output. However, most times, it does not do much good to the funding company. Besides them focusing on more publishable works than what market wants now, there is also that IP is leaked as students graduate and they take off.

  26. RedDerek
    January 1, 2014

    I remember when MEMS was in its infancy and all the drivers out there taking advantage of the technology – liquid drivers (inkjet printers), accelerometers, and mirrors.

    Now we have the infancy of NEMS. Challenges will now to shrink corresponding parts to make things smaller to get NEM to replace MEMs.

    We need to start looking ahead to PEMS and FEMS – Pico Electromechanical Systems and Femto-Electromechanical Systems. At some point do we start looking at AEMS – Atto Electromechanical Systems?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.