UCSB Engineering

February 3, 2004


New Technique Enables Tiny Titanium Machines

February 3, 2004

Santa Barbara, Calif. -- An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Materials Department, and the Department of Mechanical and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) have developed a new technique for "bulk micromachining of titanium."

The method was reported in the Nature Materials January 25, 2004, advance online edition by Marco Aimi, Dr. Masa Rao, Dr. Noel MacDonald, Abu Samah Zuruzi and David Bothman. The method utilizes the "Metal Anisotropic Reactive Ion etching with Oxidation (MARIO) process." The development has enabled the creation of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) out of bulk pieces of titanium. MEMS devices are commonly machines with dimensions smaller than a human hair that allow for sensing, such as accelerometers in airbags, and actuation in optical switching.

UCSB researcher Marco Aimi commented, "Traditionally these devices are created out of materials such as single crystal silicon and are inherently fragile while a material such as titanium offers the high fracture toughness required by harsh environment applications." He continued, "This is just the beginning of the development of entire new classes of devices."

Recently MEMS devices have been used in biology, allowing for the further development of a lab on a chip. It is this area where MEMS built out of titanium have the most immediate advantage. Titanium has great biocompatibility and is the material of choice for hip replacements, surgical tools, and dental implants. The above noted UCSB research group led by Professor MacDonald is currently investigating some of these applications.

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