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Grant Funds MEMS/NEMS Work
Aug 2007
ATLANTA, Aug. 13, 2007 -- A $1.25 million government grant will allow researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to join a multiuniversity research effort to develop a computer-aided design (CAD) environment for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS).GATechGroup.jpg
Georgia Tech professor John Papapolymerou (front), visiting professor George Papaioannou (back left) and graduate student Richard Daigler are participating a multiuniversity research center that seeks to develop a computer-aided design (CAD) environment for small-scale systems.
The new research center -- to be called the Investigate Multi-physics Modeling and Performance Assessment-driven Characterization and Computation Technology (IMPACT) Center for Advancement of MEMS/NEMS VLSI -- will be led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and will also include teams from Purdue and Lehigh universities.

The center’s research will focus on contacting MEMS switches, specifically capacitive switches, and non-contacting MEMS actuators such as cantilevers and fixed-fixed beam actuators. The potential military applications of these devices include radio frequency front-end microsystems, harsh-environment health-monitoring sensors, and integrated biodetectors.

Georgia Tech’s share of the research will be conducted by a team associated with its School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).

The research will seek to develop CAD systems that are based on physical models and can conclusively predict the behavior of MEMS devices. Eventually engineers developing systems with MEMS devices could use a simple drag-and-drop interface to simulate not only the electrical effects of MEMS usage, but also thermal, mechanical and reliability aspects as well.

“This kind of predictive capability could greatly increase the speed with which MEMS-enabled microsystems can be developed,” said John Papapolymerou, an associate professor in ECE.

A consortium of companies -- including BAE Systems, Innovative Design & Technology, MEMtronics, Raytheon, Rockwell Collins and the Rogers Corp. -- will participate financially in the center with DARPA, which commissions advanced research for the Department of Defense.

Initially, Papapolymerou said, Georgia Tech will receive about $1.25 million for a six-year effort, but that amount could increase as more companies join the center.

In the first year, the institute's efforts will focus on the fundamental physics of MEMS devices -- particularly with respect to dielectric charging of MEMS switches, Papapolymerou said.
Research in IMPACT will focus on development of CAD systems that are based on physical models to predict the behavior of MEMS devices.
Although MEMS-enabled microsystems have the potential to revolutionize communications, sensors and signal-processing, he said, their capabilities have been limited by a lack of understanding of how physical phenomena govern MEMS-device functionality. It’s particularly unclear how much performance is degraded when MEMS devices are exposed to the operating conditions of a integrated circuit.

“When we have a better understanding of the fundamental physics of MEMS devices, we can then proceed to the higher-order models and levels that are required to develop a CAD program,” Papapolymerou said.

The ultimate goal of the IMPACT center, he said, will be to promote the availability of MEMS/NEMS-based micro- and nanosystems in military and commercial applications.

“This is meant to be a dynamic center,” Papapolymerou said. “The idea is going to be to expand this in the future, so we can also expand the number of research problems that we undertake.”

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