24 July 1998
Micro-machines Keep Marching On.
The march of the micro-machines takes another step forward with the development by Sandia National Laboratories of a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) prototype that functions as a clock source.
The minuscule machines with moving parts the size of a pollen grain perform the same job as quartz crystals, the traditional technology used in timing devices in all digital electronics. At the Actuator Workshop in Hilton Head, S.C. Trey Roessig of UC, Berkeley and Jim Smith of Sandia announced "We have taken the same technology that is now being used in such devices as sensors in car airbags and applied them to a timing device," Smith says. "It looks extremely promising."
Micromachines are made from polysilicon, the same material used in manufacturing integrated circuits, the building blocks of digital electronics. Because of this, the micromachines and integrated circuits can be constructed on one chip.
Systems on a chip The micromachined clock source, conventional integrated circuits, and other micromachined elements can be built simultaneously to form a complete "systems on a chip," which if mass produced could yield dramatic reductions in price and increases in reliability, Smith says. Hundreds to thousands can be built on a single silicon wafer. In addition, the cost of manufacturing could be significantly reduced because the need for assembly would be eliminated.
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