Scientists have designed a hybrid nanomaterial with unprecedented strength and elasticity that could open the way for more advanced nano and microelectromechanical systems.

As Richard Feynman once put it in his 1959 lecture, “there’s plenty of room at the bottom”, and, similarly, there’s plenty of potential in the world of the infinitesimally small. Building and controlling nano-scale robots could yield many benefits that come with miniaturization: cost-effectiveness, improved efficiency, and lower energy consumption.

A hybrid nanomaterial for more advanced NEMS and MEMS.Click To Tweet

NEMS, Nano-Electro-Mechanical Systems

MEMS, or Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, devices which operate on a microscopic scale, have been used and implemented in numerous different devices from as early as the 1960s. These MEMS can be found in several commonly used electromechanical devices, such as accelerometers for airbags, sensors, microphones, LOC’s (lab-on-a-chip) and optical switches.

NEMS technology, on the other hand, works on the nanometric scale and is a lot more recent, with R&D projects only beginning in the early 2000s. This technology is now slowly finding its way out of labs and into commercial applications in a similar fashion to the MEMS of the 1960s and 70s.

The NEMS market is growing rapidly (CAGR of around 30%) and is expected to be worth over $100 million USD by 2022. This growth, per the MarketsandMarkets report, will mainly occur in three sectors: tools and equipment, sensors and control devices, and solid-state semiconductors.

Towards Hybrid Organic-Inorganic Nanodevices

NEMS have to demonstrate high strength and resilience at the same time, and because of the scale at which they operate, this is quite a challenge even with the use of carbon nanotubes.

Now, a team at the U.S. Department of Energy’s BNL (Brookhaven National Laboratory) and the University of Connecticut have gone a step further by developing a hybrid polymer nanocomposite.

Lightweight and customizable, the novel nanomaterial exhibits metallic strength whilst retaining a foam-like elasticity.

“We engineered materials that can store and release an unprecedented amount of mechanical energy on the nanoscale—for its weight, one of the highest ever among known high-strength engineering materials,” said lead author of the study, BNL’s Chang-Yong Nam in a press release. “And our technique fits into existing industrial semiconductor processes, which means the jump from the lab to practical applications should be straightforward.”

Strong nanomaterials with shape-memory could provide the building blocks for more advanced micro and nanoelectromechanical devices. The team’s members intend to carry on with their collaboration to explore these nanomaterials more to speed up their transition into the market.

Details of the study (Ultrahigh Elastic Strain Energy Storage in Metal-Oxide-Infiltrated Patterned Hybrid Polymer Nanocomposites) were published in the journal Nano Letters.

Do you think that NEMS are just another hopeful development in nanotechnology that will never leave the lab? Or do you think they will be the next leap forward in technological advancement? Let us know what you think in the comments below. 

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