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Creating a Factory on a Chip


Science and Engineering Professor


The terms nanoscience and nanotechnology refer to the study, development, design, and application of technology at the nanoscale (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter). Professor Sugiyama explains that “the implications of this exciting young field of research are far reaching, and have a broad range of applications in information technology, communications, medicine, and health care, as well as commercial uses in areas such as agriculture and the transportation of commercial goods.”

Nanotechnology is already being put to practical use in a range of applications such as the construction of computer chips, electronic sensors, and bio-analyzers. Many other applications are currently under development in fields such as GPS satellite communication systems, road and building maintenance, and medical diagnosis and treatment. Ritsumeikan University's Micro Nanoscience Systems COE Program is at the cutting-edge of this vital field of research.

The current goal of RU’s nanoscience systems research team is to combine sensors, actuators, and microprocessors together on silicone chips measuring 0.5 millimeters in size. The term “actuator” refers to an output device of some kind, such as a motor. The concept is to integrate an input device (the sensor), a processing device (the microprocessor), and the output device (the actuator) onto a single chip - in Professor Sugiyama’s words, “a factory on a chip.”


Such chips are known as Smart MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems), and have a very diverse range of potential applications. “Development of such chips requires the combination of expertise from several different fields,” explains Professor Sugiyama, “including micro-nano fabrication technology, crystal growth technology, device assembly and packaging, and robotics and information systems technology. Through the combination of these many different fields, the new academic field of nanoscience system engineering has evolved.”

In the communications field, Smart MEMS could be used to connect optical fiber networks, and control radio frequency circuits and mobile phone antennas. The same Smart MEMS chip could be used in a different way in an automobile, in the sensors for engine and driving controls. Smart MEMS embedded into the structures of buildings and roads could monitor factors such as pressure, vibration and humidity, providing engineers with important maintenance information. In the field of transportation, the chips could be used to keep a record of the changing environmental and storage conditions of foods, organic, or other sensitive materials for the entire duration of their transportation. The recipient would then be aware of any inconsistencies in their storage conditions that could potentially cause problems, such as fluctuations in temperature or humidity.

Application of Smart MEMS

In the medical field, Smart MEMS could be used to monitor a patient’s pulse, blood pressure, and other biological data including their state of motion. This information could then be relayed any distance - even if the patient’s doctor was on the other side of the world it would still be possible to monitor a patient’s activity and physical condition.

The small size of the Smart MEMS chips makes them extremely well suited to applications involving their attachment to the human body. “For example,” says Professor Sugiyama, “in sports science, the recorders used to measure an athlete’s performance, heartbeat, blood pressure, and electrocardiographical information can be so cumbersome that they can affect the readings they gather. Utilizing Smart MEMS technology it is projected that it will become possible to replace such devices with unobtrusive ‘patch’-style monitors which will be able to obtain more accurate readings.”

Keywords: Electronic Measurements and Control Engineering, Intelligent Mechanics, Electron Devices and Apparatus Engineering