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January 7, 1988

MICROSTRUCTURES, OR HOW TINY VALVES, GEARS MAY BE INCLUDED ON CONTROL CHIPS

By CBR Staff Writer

Those who need to keep up with developments in the computer and microelectronics industry are faced with yet another new subject to mug up – Microstructures. The term is applied to the combination of micromachining with silicon semiconductor fabrication to create complex but tiny three-dimensional mechanical structures on silicon substrates. Microbytes Daily notes that the technology is already used in the the creation of the nozzles of most ink-jet printers, but specialists in the new technology see it finding its widest application in the automotive industry where valves and electromechanical actuators could be replaced by microstructures within the next five years. The newswire reports that in the past 12 months, researchers have succeeded in etching micro-gears and micro-turbines in silicon and a Stanford University researcher, Mark Zdeblick, has developed a silicon electric-to-fluidic valve that measures just 3mm by 3mm and generates 30mS fluid pulses with 1mS response times. He expects that the valve will eventually find applications in robotics, gas chromatography and fuel injection. Why create such complex mechanical structures in silicon? The idea is that, integrated with sensors and support electronics, the silicon valve could become part of a complete pressure regulator or flow meter system on a single chip.

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