Time Goes Nano

Written by Cory Chandler

News Release

DATE: April 20, 2006
CONTACT: Cory Chandler, cory.chandler@ttu.edu
(806) 742-2136

MEMS Clock Counts Minutes in Micrometers

LUBBOCK – Think your wristwatch is compact? Try beating this: Dr. Tim Dallas and his team of Texas Tech University nanotechnology students have created a clock so small that it can keep time on the head of a pin.

Granted, people shouldn’t flock to replace their Seikos just yet – the heavy dose of electricity required to turn the tiny hands forces the clock to run fast. Plus, Dallas warns, the smallest bit of dust could clog its gears for, well, eternity.

Still, this proof-of-concept design was enough to grab the attention of Sandia National Laboratories during its 2005 microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, design competition. The winning designs were built in Sandia’s laboratories and returned to the universities for testing. Dallas, so far, has tested five of the 50 clocks built by the labs.

Texas Tech’s team of students from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, led by Phillip Beverly and advised by associate professor Dallas, didn’t allow the small scale to hamper style: the clock included Texas Tech’s iconic Double “T” and a gloved hand giving the university’s “guns up” sign.

In addition to the two-millimeter-square clock, the entry included a miniature bicycle chain, a dynamic two-axis scanner and two types of mirrors. All five devices were built on a three-by-six-millimeter chip. A penny, with a 19-millimeter diameter, seems whopping by comparison.
MEMS devices allow development of smaller, higher performance systems with improved applications. They are used in devices such as pressure sensors, air bag sensors, projection televisions and biomedical devices.

CONTACT: Tim Dallas, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-4753, or tim.dallas@ttu.edu.