image- driven by air forced through their ports, miniature gears (not much wider than a human hair) promise application in manufacturing, medicine and robotics

Click on the arrows below to view the answers

What are the world's smallest motors currently used for?

blue arrow

What research does overall MEMS strategy combine?

green arrow

MEMS devices will be a relatively small fraction of the cost of which products?

purple arrow






Return to questions


Information systems used to be embedded in computers at fixed locations. Now they are also found in nearly everyone's hands and pockets, thanks to miniaturization of electromechanical systems.

Using the fabrication techniques and materials of microelectronics as a basis, micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS) processes are shrinking machines to microscopic dimensions.

Smallest motors
Already the world's smallest motors have rotors that are less than the diameter of a human hair. These motors are poweringoptical switches, valves and airbag deployment sensors.

To shrink machines to microscopic dimensions, NSF-funded engineers rely on the same technology used to make integrated circuits. Mechanical components in MEMS have dimensions that are measured in microns, from a few to millions. MEMS machines are the size of a pinhead.

An overall strategy
MEMS are not single applications or devices, nor are they defined by a single fabrication process or limited to a few materials. More than anything else, MEMS represent an overall strategy combiningminiaturization, multiple components and microelectronics to design and fabricate integrated electromechanical systems.

NSF funded early development work, including fundamental research on microscale phenomena, manufacturing processes and applications. This work in turn has fueled the current multibillion dollar MEMS industry.

New uses
Widely used, MEMS devices and their use will continue to expand. Already,cars, fighter aircraft, printers and munitions use MEMS devices,and the devices account for a relatively small fraction of their cost, size and weight.

MEMS devices and the smart products they enable will create new opportunities for perceiving and controlling our work and life environments and will increasingly be the performance differentiator for both defense and commercial systems.

While MEMS devices will be a relatively small fraction of the cost, size and weight of these systems, MEMS will be critical to their operation, reliability and affordability.

Return to top

nifty50 home
50th anniversary
NSF history
NSF home