A New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) physics professor is working to keep students abreast of one of the decade’s most promising technologies: micro-electromechanical systems, known commonly as MEMS.
With a $300,000 grant over three years from the National Science Foundation, NJIT’s Beau Farmer, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, is leading a research team to develop an educational kit to introduce high school and college students to MEMS. The research team includes two professors from Columbia University and another from Lehigh University.
MEMS is a technology that makes possible the construction of tiny devices such as sensors, valves, gears, mirrors and actuators for an array of applications.
“The multi-billion dollar MEMS industry promises to revolutionize the automotive, telecommunications, and biomedical industries,” says Farmer. “An understanding of MEMS is essential to students of technology. We want to introduce the challenges and possibilities of MEMS to the broadest possible student audience.”
NJIT owns a MEMS lab, a clean room, where students design and build a variety of MEMS structures. The MEMS educational kit will allow students whose schools lack clean rooms to simulate the fabrication of MEMS systems and also provide the students with actual MEMS devices to test, says Farmer, who directs the Microelectronics Research Center at NJIT.
Using the simulation software, the students can learn key MEMS processes such as wafer cleaning, photolithography, oxidation, deposition and etching. The software will also allow students to control all aspects of fabrication including process time, temperature and environment, loading wafers, dispensing chemicals, starting pumps and the opening and closing of valves. The actual devices provided in the kit will include classic pressure and acceleration sensors, similar to those used in current automotive applications, and actuators that illustrate fundamental MEMS concepts.
One common MEMS device is the sensor used in automobile air bag systems. In another application MEMS switches control the path of light waves through the networks of fiber cables used in telecommunications.
For the next three years, students and professors at six universities will test the MEMS educational kits. After getting feedback from the schools, researchers working with Farmer plan to partner with a firm that, beginning in 2006, will distribute the kits nationally.
“We have developed this project to meet the needs of students, educators and prospective employers around the country,” Farmer says. “By giving students hands on experience building and testing MEMS devices, we hope to spur their enthusiasm and prepare them to work on the decade’s most exciting products.”
Farmer received a bachelor’s degree from University of Virginia and both his master’s degree and doctorate from Cornell University.