In two papers presented at the meeting of the Society of Experimental Mechanics in Indianapolis and at the Nanotech 2010 Conference and Expo in Anaheim, California, Purdue University scientists detail a new mechanism that allows for precise automatic calibration of micro electromechanical systems (MEMS). Current methods of calibration are about 10% off the correct number in small scale systems, but the new technique promises near perfect readings leading to precise micro-sensors.
MEMS accelerometers and gyroscopes currently are being used in commercial products, including the Nintendo Wii video game, the iPhone, walking robots and automotive airbags.
“Those MEMS work well because they don’t need ultra-high precision or accuracy,” Clark said. “It is difficult for conventional technology to accurately measure very small forces, such as van der Waals forces between molecules or a phenomenon called the Casimir effect that is due to particles popping in and out of existence everywhere in the universe.”
These forces are measured in “piconewtons,” a trillionth of the weight of a medium-size apple.
“If we are trying to investigate or exploit picoscale phenomena like Casimir forces, van der Waals forces, the hydrogen bond forces in DNA, high-density data storage or even nanoassembly, we need much higher precision and accuracy than conventional methods provide,” Clark said. “With conventional tools, we know we are sensing something, but without accurate measurements it is difficult to fully understand the phenomena, repeat the experiments and create predictive models.”