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 RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C., Oct. 29 /PRNewswire/ -- MCNC has been awarded a three-year, $2.47 million contract from the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), according to company President Dr. Matthew Kuhn. The contract supports the establishment of a MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology infrastructure at MCNC, located in Research Triangle Park. The focus of the program is to provide low-cost, open-access MEMS technical facilities and expertise to industry, universities and individuals interested in developing and testing microscopic electromechanical devices known as MEMS.
 MEMS are very small, functioning sensors and actuators with working parts less than half the width of a human hair. At MCNC, researchers fabricate the devices using the same facilities and techniques used to produce integrated circuits.
 According to MCNC Vice President Dr. Glenn Dunlap, "MEMS provide the basis for the next generation of manufacturing capability that will open up entirely new opportunities across a wide range of product areas. Currently the U.S. has a leadership position in MEMS research and this ARPA contract will provide a vehicle to carry this research knowledge into the commercial marketplace for a wide range of product applications."
 The ARPA contract brings scientists one step closer to being able to use microscopic machines, pumps and sensors to solve challenging medical and engineering problems in ways never before possible. Karen Markus, manager of MCNC's MEMS Technology Applications group, explains, "Our goal is to transition MEMS from research to products by providing an open-access facility where MEMS ideas can be developed, engineered and produced." She notes that while the United States leads the world in MEMS research, aggressive foreign development is providing stiff competition for commercialization of these devices.
 Research suggests that MEMS commercial potential is staggering. Potential applications include belt buckle size personal inertial guidance units; hand-held, low-power analytical instruments; deformable surface control of air and undersea craft; and integrated projection and low-power displays. Markus notes that automobile manufacturers are already using tiny acceleration sensors -- MEMS -- in airbags. The accelerometers' small dimensions make them highly sensitive to rapid deceleration -- a car crash -- critical in triggering inflation of the airbag if there is an automobile accident.
 But MEMS are not limited to mechanical applications. Markus explains, "The medical and biomedical fields are wide open." Future applications in the biomedical and medical fields include microdrug delivery systems capable of precise delivery of drugs where they are needed (e.g., into the heart or a tumor); implantable insulin delivery systems that could provide much more stable levels of insulin than currently achievable; and implanted health monitoring systems that would allow remote monitoring of patients, enabling earlier release from the hospital.
 While potential applications for these tiny, electromechanical devices are intriguing, MEMS are just as revolutionary because of the methods used to manufacture the devices. Using the same fabrication techniques as in making integrated circuits, MEMS producers take advantage of miniaturization and the lower costs associated with multiplicity -- manufacturing in duplicate batches. More importantly, because of these fabrication techniques, MEMS have the "smarts" of integrated circuits. They are tiny programmable, responsive electronic mechanisms.
 The potent combination of these three factors -- miniaturization, multiplicity, and microelectronics -- yields a technology that may have as much impact on society as did the arrival of semiconductors, computers or plastics.
 The goal of the ARPA activity at MCNC's MEMS Technology Application Center is to provide access to inexpensive experimentation and technical resources, encouraging a broader spectrum of businesses and individuals to enter the MEMS field. Researchers interested in experimenting with a MEMS design can buy space -- one-centimeter squares -- on four inch silicon wafers used in the MEMS fabrication process. Because the dimensions are so small, designers can squeeze dozens of tiny mechanical devices into one contracted space. According to Markus, increasing the diversity of researchers involved in the technology will help accelerate the commercialization of MEMS.
 Markus compares MEMS technology to earlier advances in microelectronics. Just as improved design and fabrication techniques led to the development of faster computers, she notes that "there is tremendous potential for MEMS to make physical systems smaller, faster and potentially more cost efficient."
 BACKGROUND: MCNC is a private, nonprofit corporation located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. MCNC provides advanced resources in electronic and information technologies to support education and industry and enhance science-based economic development in North Carolina.
 -0- 10/29/93
 /CONTACT: Eileen Sarro, Public Relations, of MCNC, 919-248-1827/

CO: MCNC ST: North Carolina IN: CPR SU: CON

MM-CM -- CH004 -- 8602 10/29/93 14:54 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Oct 29, 1993

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