Engineering Team Gets Microscopic Checkmate

The electrical engineering team will see their designs birthed in a microfabrication facility.

The winning chess board design is modeled after traditional chess figures and its pieces are moved by microrobotic arms.

The winning chess board design is modeled after traditional chess figures and its pieces are moved by microrobotic arms. Click to enlarge image.

The world’s smallest chess board, about the diameter of four human hairs and designed by Texas Tech engineering students, was a winner in this year’s design contest for novel microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), held at Sandia National Laboratories.

A pea-sized microbarbershop, designed by students at the University of Utah, was the winner of the educational MEMS.

The two winning teams will see their designs birthed in Sandia’s microfabrication facility, one of the most advanced in the world.

Kings of the Microworld

The micro chess board comes with micropieces scored with the design of traditional chess figures. Each piece is outfitted with even tinier stubs that allow a microrobotic arm to move them from square to square. Space along the side of the board is available to hold captured pieces.

Texas Tech’s team consists of Sahil Oak, Sandesh Rawool, Ganapathy Sivakumar and Ashwin Vijayasai, said Tim Dallas, team advisor and electrical engineering professor.

The microbarbershop, intended to service a single hair, employs a microgripper, cutter, moveable mirror and blow dryer.

This year’s contest participants also included the Air Force Institute of Technology, the universities of Oklahoma and New Mexico and the Central New Mexico Community College.

The contest, open to institutional members of the Sandia-led MEMS University Alliance program, provides an arena for the nation’s student engineers to hone their skills in designing and using microdevices. Such devices are used to probe biological cells, arrange and operate components of telecommunications and high-tech machinery and operate many home devices.

The contest helps develop a sense of the maximum and minimum displacement of a micro object, the amount of force needed to move it and the degrees of freedom needed for a part to accomplish its preset task.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major research and development responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.


Whitacre College of Engineering

The Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering has educated engineers to meet the technological needs of Texas, the nation and the world since 1925.

Approximately 4,300 undergraduate and 725 graduate students pursue bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees offered through eight academic departments: civil and environmental, chemical, computer science, electrical and computer, engineering technology, industrial, mechanical and petroleum.

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