MEMS devices withstand radiation


UNIVERSITY of Utah engineers have designed micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) that withstand intense radiation and heat.

The MEMS will have obvious applications in circuits for robots and computers exposed to radiation in space, damaged nuclear power plants or nuclear attack.

The researchers subjected their MEMS devices to intense ionising radiation and heat by dipping them for two hours into the core of the University of Utah's research reactor, and found them to continue working. They also built simple circuits with the devices.

The researchers are now looking for funds to build a computer using the MES logic gates and circuits.

MEMS logic gates are not degraded ionising radiation because they lack semiconducting channels. Instead, electrical charges make electrodes move to touch each other, thus acting like a switch.

Electronic materials and devices by their nature require a semiconducting channel to carry current, and the channel is controlled by charges. Radiation creates current inside the semiconductor channel, disrupting control and causing signal loss.

The heavy shielding on computers and robots sent into areas with ionising radiation compromises the run-time and flexibility of robots used in critical radioactive areas.