May 14, 2007

MEMS student design contest winners announced by Sandia

Oklahoma and Illinois universities earn top micro design honors

University of Oklahoma’s smallest-arm MEMS project An accordion? A road jack? Neither — it’s University of Oklahoma’s smallest-arm MEMS project, with out of plane extension capability and grabbers at far right.
Download 300dpi JPEG image, “mems_2ou_novel.jpg,” 574KB (Media are welcome to download/publish this image with related news stories.)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two winners of the third annual University Alliance competition for student microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) designs have been announced by Sandia National Laboratories, which originated and supports the competition.

The novel design category was won by a team from the University of Oklahoma, which wrested first place from perennial winner Texas Tech with a micro device impressively named Parvissimus bracchius, for “smallest arm.”

A second category, new this year, called for a micro design that would reliably inspect nanoscale phenomena. This was won by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

“This competition is an opportunity for universities around the country to participate in an experience that incorporates all the intricate details of design, analysis, and fabrication of complex MEMS devices,” says Mark Platzbecker, technical team lead in Sandia’s MEMS Core Technologies Dept.

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.

The University of Oklahoma students, under the guidance of mechanical engineering Professor Harold Stalford, won for their design of a 3-D microstructure with a powered robotic “hand” at its summit.

“We wanted a 3-D structure with power and motion at the top,” student team leader Zach Butler explained to an audience of Sandia microdesigners. “We wanted a 3-D microrobot active above the chip and off the chip’s sides to grab theoretical microfruit off a low-hanging tree.”

The tool design shows a device with the ability to extend like an accordion or a micro automobile jack at the top.

The flat device, when heated, can rise one millimeter to a vertical position, with power available for actuators to perform tasks above the substrate through an extended arm reaching several hundred microns higher. Several tools for the extended arm are being investigated.

The device, said Butler, could make in vitro fertilization more efficient and provide less invasive biopsy procedures.

Kinematic simulations are in progress, he said.

In addition to Butler, other students on the team were Samuel Camp, Joseph Dingeldein, Andrew Mann, Stephen Thompson, and Andrea Watt.

The UIUC tension-testing MEMS structure The UIUC tension-testing MEMS structure, utilizing a novel floating shuttle actuator, is intended to deform nano-objects so their physical properties can be measured.
Download 300dpi JPEG image, “mems_uiuc_characterization.jpg,” 425KB (Media are welcome to download/publish this image with related news stories.)

The UIUC team was led by student Mohammad Naraghi under the direction of Professor Ioannis Chasiotis.

The UIUC device featured a mechanical testing platform capable of generating tens of micronewtons of force on highly deformable nanofibers, with a total displacement of 100 micrometers measurable by an integrated folded leaf spring-loaded cell.

Fabrication of the designs by winners and honorable-mention finishers are among the incentives offered by Sandia for schools to join and participate in the University Alliance. Each winning school also will receive a selection of their MEMS fabricated parts for use in their curriculum.

Seven participants in the Alliance, now 17 members strong, chose to enter this year’s competitions.

“The Sandia University Alliance is steadily growing,” said Tom Zipperian, Sandia senior manager for MESA microfabrication. “We expect to have 20 members by next year’s competition.”

For more information regarding the contest or becoming a member of the University Alliance, contact Stephanie Johnson at

More contest information can be found at

Top of Page

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Neal Singer,, (505) 845-7078