Microtweezers make complex MEMS devices easier

As components get smaller and smaller, MEMS devices are increasingly found everywhere in the electronics industry, like accelerometers and gyroscopes which fit in your smartphone.

Researchers are creating even more intricate MEMS systems, with silicon based devices used for applications such as detecting chemical on an atomic scale being discussed by scientists at the University of Purdue.

As the stubby-fingered Lego enthusiasts among us will know, manipulating tiny components is difficult to do with finesse.

To upon the doors to MEMS devices of much greater complexity, Purdue researchers have developed, and provisionally patented, a set of ‘microtweezers’ that can build tiny structures such as those hidden in your iPhone or in your car.

MEMS components could be used to create devices by being individually manipulated with the silicon prongs of the microtweezers.

So far, the team has managed to manipulate polystyrene spheres measuring 40 micrometres, which we can imagine would make Hasbro’s Operation a breeze.  However, the researchers claim it is as simple as selecting a melon at the supermarket.

While there have been other attempts to create working microtweezers, the researchers believe they have distinct advantages in that no electrical power source is needed, and Purdue’s is considerably easier to manufacture and function.  The tool also involves only one movable ‘spring’ piece, rather than a complex set of components.

The team believes that it could also be possible to study individual stem cells in isolation by separating from the large groups that they are currently able to be view.  Furthermore, there are potential applications in precision printing of chemical or protein dots, or conversely coated in chemicals to attract specific materials to the microtweezers.