It is time for more thrilling video games, better functioning prosthetic limbs, cars that can detect collisions and dangerous turns before they occur, and missiles that can reach a target far more precisely-all thanks to sensitive sensors being developed by researchers at Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Engineering.
Prof. Yael Hanein, Dr. Slava Krylov and their doctoral student Assaf Yaakobovitz, have set out to make sensors for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) significantly more sensitive and reliable than they are today.
The new MEMS sensing device, which can "feel" and sense the movement of individual atoms, uses small carbon tubes, nano in size - about one-billionth of a meter long.
Creating these tiny tubes using a process involving methane gas and a furnace, Hanein has developed a method whereby they arrange themselves on a surface of a silicon chip to accurately sense tiny movements and changes in gravity.
In the device, a very tiny nanometer scale tube is added onto much larger micrometer-scale MEMS devices.
Small deformities in the crystal structure of the tubes register a change in the movement of the nano object, and deliver the amplitude of the movement through an electrical impulse.
"It's such a tiny thing. But at our resolution, we are able to feel the motion of objects as small as a few atoms," said Hanein.
"Originally developed mainly for the car industry, miniature sensors are all around us. We've been able to fabricate a new device where the nano structures are put onto a big surface - and they can be arranged in a process that doesn't require human intervention, so they're easier to manufacture. We can drive these nano-sensing tubes to wherever we need them to go, which could be very convenient and cost-effective across a broad spectrum of industries," said Hanein.
Until now, the field of creating sensors for nanotechnology has been primarily based on manual operation requiring time-consuming techniques, explained Hanein.
The researchers have developed a sensitive but abundant and cost-effective material that can be coated onto prosthetic limbs, inserted into new video games for more exciting play, and used by the auto industry to detect a potential collision before it becomes fatal.
The market for MEMS devices, which take mechanical signals and convert them into electrical impulses, is estimated to be worth billions.
"The main challenge facing the industry today is to make these basic sensors a lot more sensitive, to recognize minute changes in motion and position. Obviously there is a huge interest from the military, which recognizes the navigation potential of such technologies, but there are also humanitarian and recreational uses that can come out of such military developments," said Hanein.
For example, more sensitive MEMS could play a role in guided surgery.
The technology has been published in the Journal of Micro-mechanics and Micro-engineering.