Exploiting emergent collective behaviours in complex large MEMS systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Engineering Science


Using micro/nanotechnology it is possible to create systems containing millions of interacting, non-linear and potentially variable components in areas of less than one square centimetre. Furthermore, since these systems are 'sensors' they must be designed to predictably respond to an input despite the fact that each component is so small and sensitive that it can be significantly perturbed by unavoidable random fluctuations in its local environment. These characteristics suggest that some of the most complex systems we currently need to understand, model and control are these physically very small, super-massive arrays of miniature electronic and mechanical devices. Conventionally the design of a system containing miniature devices is dramatically simplified by isolating the components of the system. However, this simplification is bought at the expense of suppressing potential beneficial system properties and behaviours. It is both essential and timely to break away from the constraints arising from this conventional design process. Researchers from the Universities of Aston, Birmingham and Oxford therefore propose to work together to develop a very novel approach to system design that exploits rather than minimises the complexity of supermassive arrays of miniature devices. This new design strategy will be developed by combining expertise in mathematics, physics, mechanics and microelectronics to investigate collective and non-linear effects in arrays of micromechanical sensors. The information that these investigations generate will then be included in new models of this type of sensor that will then be used to predict and exploit system level properties of arrays of these sensors. The result will lead to revolutionary new types of systems.
Description Microelectromechanical (MEMs) resonant sensors are so small that it is possible for huge numbers to be integrated into a small area. However, it is then impossible to contact each of the sensors. Within the project a novel method of monitoring the response of many sensors using only two common contacts has been devised and demonstrated. The same method can also be used to characterise the unavoidable variations between nominally identical resonators.
Exploitation Route In the future this work could lead to improved MEMs based resonant sensors for a range of applications including chemical detection, The most appropriate exploitation route is via the manufacturers of MEMs systems.
Sectors Electronics,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing/ including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy