Two cutting-edge technologies—NEMS and the conductive nanomaterial graphene—are teaming to produce tiny accelerometers that could lead to the development of innovative body sensor and navigation technologies, according to researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, RWTH Aachen University, and Research Institute AMO GmbH, Aachen.
For decades, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have been the basis for new innovations in, for example, medical technology. Now these systems are starting to move to the next level—nano-electromechanical systems, or NEMS. The researchers envision the accelerometers being used in monitoring systems for cardiovascular diseases and ultra-sensitive wearable and portable motion-capture technologies.
Xuge Fan, a researcher in the Department for Micro and Nanosystems at KTH, said that the material properties of graphene are enabling them to build these ultra-small accelerometers.
“Based on the surveys and comparisons we have made, we can say that this is the smallest reported electromechanical accelerometer in the world,” Fan said in a statement. The research was published in Nature Electronics.
The use of graphene is considered key. “We can scale down components because of the material’s atomic-scale thickness, and it has great electrical and mechanical properties,” Fan said. “We created a piezoresistive NEMS accelerometer that is dramatically smaller than any MEMS accelerometers available today, but retains the sensitivity these systems require.”
Fan compares nanotechnology advances to the evolution of smaller and smaller computers.
“This could eventually benefit mobile phones for navigation, mobile games and pedometers, as well as monitoring systems for heart disease and motion-capture wearables that can monitor even the slightest movements of the human body,” he said.
Other potential uses for the NEMS transducers include ultra-miniaturized NEMS sensors and actuators such as resonators, gyroscopes and microphones.