This is an abbreviation for “microelectromechanical systems”, a term which, understandably, is not often spoken or written in full. MEMS are essentially computer chips that contain not only electronic circuits but also miniaturised mechanical devices, such as mirrors, levers or sensors. As an example, it’s possible to etch a tiny beam into a chip, which distorts under acceleration and so affects an electronic circuit. This makes a tiny, robust (and cheap) accelerometer that is already being used as a car air-bag sensor. A device the size of a wristwatch might contain a complete set of sensors for watching the weather. Others are being designed to pump fluids, switch laser signals or create new types of radio circuits. It’s a rapidly growing field, not yet widely known (though the term itself dates from the early nineties), but one that is predicted to become a substantial industry within a few years. Some experts refer to the more obviously mechanical of these devices, such as those containing gears, as micromachines; others have coined the term smart matter for MEMS devices. So fast is the pace of miniaturisation that some researchers have already coined NEMS (nanoelectromechanical systems) for yet smaller systems of a similar kind.
Smart matter, material utilizing microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), is almost sentient in that it can sense (strain, temperature, pressure, motion, etc.), actuate (push, squeeze, deflect, switch, etc.), communicate (with fibers, antennas, wires, etc.), and calculate (with microprocessors).
Physics News Update, Aug. 1997
Previous experience with synchrotron radiation, X-ray lithography, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) or mask making by e-beam is desirable.
Advertisement in New Scientist, Dec 1997