Category Archives: Bioelectronics

A report that resulted from a workshop funded by Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) and National Science Foundation (NSF) outlines key factors limiting progress in computing—particularly related to energy consumption—and novel device and architecture research that can overcome these barriers. A summary of the report’s findings can be found at the end of this article; the full report can be accessed here.

The findings and recommendations in the report are in alignment with the nanotechnology-inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing announced on October 20 by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Grand Challenge calls for new approaches to computing that will operate with the efficiency of the human brain. It also aligns with the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI) announced by an Executive Order signed by the President on July 29.

Energy efficiency is vital to improving performance at all levels. This includes from devices and transistors to large IT systems, as well from small sensors at the edge of the Internet of Things (IoT) to large data centers in cloud and supercomputing systems.

“Fundamental research on hardware performance, complex system architectures, and new memory/storage technologies can help to discover new ways to achieve energy-efficient computing,” said Jim Kurose, the Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). “Partnerships with industry, including SRC and its member companies, are an important way to speed the adoption of these research findings.”

Performance improvements today are limited by energy inefficiencies that result in overheating and thermal management issues. The electronic circuits in computer chips still operate far from any fundamental limits to energy efficiency, and much of the energy used by today’s computers is expended moving data between memory and the central processor.

At the same time as increases in performance slow, the amount of data being produced is exploding. By 2020, an estimated 44 zettabytes of data (1 zettabyte equals 1 trillion gigabytes) will be created on an annual basis.

“New devices, and new architectures based on those devices, could take computing far beyond the limits of today’s technology. The benefits to society would be enormous,” said Tom Theis, Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI) Executive Director at SRC, the world’s leading university-research consortium for semiconductor technologies.

Inspired by the neural architecture of a macaque brain, this neon swirl is the wiring diagram for a new kind of computer that, by some definitions, may soon be able to think. (Credit: Emmett McQuinn, IBM Research - Almaden)

Inspired by the neural architecture of a macaque brain, this neon swirl is the wiring diagram for a new kind of computer that, by some definitions, may soon be able to think. (Credit: Emmett McQuinn, IBM Research – Almaden)

In order to realize these benefits, a new paradigm for computing is necessary. A workshop held April 14-15, 2015 in Arlington, Va., and funded by SRC and NSF convened experts from industry, academia and government to identify key factors limiting progress and promising new concepts that should be explored. The report being announced today resulted from the workshop discussions and provides a guide to future basic research investments in energy-efficient computing.

The report builds upon an earlier report funded by the Semiconductor Industry Association, SRC and NSF on Rebooting the IT Revolution.

To achieve the Nanotechnology Grand Challenge and the goals of the NSCI, multi-disciplinary fundamental research on materials, devices and architecture is needed. NSF and SRC, both individually and together, have a long history of supporting long-term research in these areas to address such fundamental, high-impact science and engineering challenges.

Report Findings

Broad Conclusions

Research teams should address interdisciplinary research issues essential to the demonstration of new device concepts and associated architectures. Any new device is likely to have characteristics very different from established devices. The interplay between device characteristics and optimum circuit architectures therefore means that circuit and higher level architectures must be co-optimized with any new device. Devices combining digital and analog functions or the functions of logic and memory may lend themselves particularly well to unconventional information processing architectures. For maximum impact, research should focus on devices and architectures which can enable a broad range of useful functions, rather than being dedicated to one function or a few particular functions.

Prospects for New Devices

Many promising research paths remain relatively unexplored. For example, the gating of phase transitions is a potential route to “steep slope” devices that operate at very low voltage. Relevant phase transitions might include metal-insulator transitions, formation of excitonic or other electronic condensates, and various transitions involving structural degrees of freedom. Other promising mechanisms for low-power switching may involve transduction. Magnetoelectric devices, in which an external voltage state is transduced to an internal magnetic state, exemplify the concept. However, transduction need not be limited to magnetoelectric systems.

In addition to energy efficiency, switching speed is an important criterion in choice of materials and device concepts. For example, most nanomagnetic devices switch by magnetic precession, a process which is rather slow in the ferromagnetic systems explored to date. Magnetic precession switching in antiferromagnetic or ferrimagnetic materials could be one or more orders of magnitude faster. Other novel physical systems could be still faster. For example, electronic collective states could, in principle, be switched on sub-picosecond time scales.

More generally, devices based on computational state variables beyond magnetism and charge (or voltage) could open many new possibilities.

Another relatively unexplored path to improved energy efficiency is the implementation of adiabatically switched devices in energy-conserving circuits. In such circuits, the phase of an oscillation or propagating wave may represent digital state; devices and interconnections must together constitute circuits that are non-dissipative. Nanophotonic, plasmonic, spin wave or other lightly damped oscillatory systems might be well-suited for such an approach. Researchers should strive to address the necessary components of a practical engineering solution, including mechanisms for correction of unavoidable phase and amplitude errors.

Networks of coupled non-linear oscillators have been explored for non-Boolean computation in applications such as pattern recognition. Potential technological approaches include nanoelectromechanical, nanophotonic, and nanomagnetic oscillators. Researchers should strive for generality of function and should address the necessary components of a practical engineering solution, including devices, circuits, and architectures that allow reliable operation in the presence of device variability and environmental fluctuations.

Prospects for New Architectures

While appropriate circuits and higher level architectures should be explored and co-developed along with any new device concept, certain novel device concepts may demand greater emphasis on higher-level architecture. For example, hysteretic devices, combining the functions of non-volatile logic and memory, might enhance the performance of established architectures (power gating in microprocessors, reconfiguration of logic in field programmable gate arrays), but perhaps more important, they might play an enabling role in novel architectures (compute in memory, weighting of connections in neuromorphic systems, and more). As a second example, there has been great progress in recent years in the miniaturization and energy efficiency of linear and non-linear photonic devices and compact light emitters. It is possible that these advances will have their greatest impact, not in the ongoing replacement of metal wires by optical connections, but rather in enabling new architectures for computing. Computation “in the network” is one possible direction. In general, device characteristics and architecture appear to be highly entwined in oscillatory or energy-conserving systems. Key device characteristics may be inseparable from the coupling (connections) between devices. For non-Boolean computation, optimum architectures and the range of useful algorithms will depend on these characteristics.

In addition to the examples above, many other areas of architectural research might leverage emerging device concepts to obtain order of magnitude improvements in the energy efficiency of computing. Research topics might include architectures for heterogeneous systems, architectures that minimize data movement, neuromorphic architectures, and new approaches to Stochastic Computing, Approximate Computing, Cognitive Computing and more.

Slideshow: 2015 IEDM Preview

October 20, 2015
The 2015 IEDM Conference will be held in Washington DC.

The 2015 IEDM will be held in Washington DC.

This year marks the 61st annual IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM). It is arguably the world’s pre-eminent forum for reporting technological breakthroughs in semiconductor and electronic device technology, design, manufacturing, physics, and modeling. The conference focuses not only on devices in silicon, compound and organic semiconductors, but also in emerging material systems.

As usual, Solid State Technology will be reporting insights from bloggers and industry partners during the conference. This slideshow provides an advance look at some of the most newsworthy topics and papers that will be presented at this year’s meeting, which will be held at the Washington, D.C. Hilton from December 7-9, 2015.

Click here to start the slideshow

Check back here for more articles and information about IEDM 2015:

Helpful conference links:

Peidong Yang is an inorganic chemist transforming the field of semiconductor nanowires and nanowire photonics and enabling wide-ranging practical applications. Nanowires are very small wires at the nano scale–so small that they behave differently, with quantum effects. Yang has led major breakthroughs in nanowire photonics over the last decade, from the initial development of nanowire lasers to the characterization of optical routing in nanowire assemblies and nanowire solar cells.

In addition to basic research, Yang has worked toward transitioning nanowire technology into real-world applications. Technology based on his findings is now being demonstrated in commercial devices for the conversion of waste heat into electricity, in chemical sensors, and in optical switches. Yang’s current research also focuses on artificial photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants gather sunlight and carbon dioxide from the air, combine them with water, and store energy in chemical compounds; previous attempts to replicate it as a means for converting solar energy into fuel have not been efficient enough for commercial use.

Yang and his collaborators have created a synthetic “leaf” that is a hybrid system of semiconducting nanowires and bacteria. The nanowires gather sunlight, and the bacteria trigger the use of carbon dioxide and water to complete the photosynthetic process and produce a targeted carbon-based chemical such as butanol. The team’s recent breakthrough in synthesizing carbon dioxide into methane, the primary component of natural gas, exhibits the potential to convert solar energy with an efficiency that makes it viable for commercial use. Yang’s advances in the science of nanomaterials are opening new horizons for tackling the global challenge of clean, renewable energy sources.

Peidong Yang received a B.A. (1993) from the University of Science and Technology in China and a Ph.D. (1997) from Harvard University. He was a postdoctoral fellow (1997-1999) at the University of California at Santa Barbara before joining the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, where he is currently the S. K. and Angela Chan Distinguished Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry. His scientific papers have appeared in such journals as Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Journal of the American Chemical Society, among others.

ams AG, a provider of high performance sensors and analog ICs, today announced the launch of the AS7000, the first member of a new family of health/fitness solutions aimed at wearable devices. The AS7000 solution incorporates a highly integrated optical sensor module accompanied by software to provide industry-leading, highly accurate optical heart rate measurements (HRM) and heart rate variation (HRV) readings, backed by opto-mechanical design-in support from ams.

Housed in a compact 6.1mm x 4.1mm x 1.0mm package, the AS7000 is the industry’s first complete integrated health and fitness solution wearables intended to be worn constantly, at rest and when exercising. The introduction of the module raises the prospect of fitness bands as well as sports and smart watches allowing for accelerated design cycles and replacing the cumbersome, uncomfortable electro-cardiogram (ECG) chest strap in lifestyle, fitness, and health monitoring applications.

The ams solution contains the AS7000 module including the LEDs, photo-sensor, analog front end (AFE) and controller, as well as application software required to implement an accurate optical HRM/HRV fitness band product. In addition to HRM/HRV, the module also enables skin temperature and skin resistivity measurements by providing interfaces to external sensors.

Drawing on its expertise in optical sensing in mobile devices, ams provides OEMs with electrical, mechanical, and optical design guidelines to enable them to quickly realize a successful implementation. These guidelines address critical opto-mechanical challenges such as the design and material of the wrist strap and housing, and specific optical design considerations such as the air gap and glass thickness.

The operation of the AS7000 is based on photoplethysmography (PPG), an HRM method which measures the pulse rate by sampling light modulated by the blood vessels, which expand and contract as blood pulses through them. Unlike existing optical AFEs, which produce raw PPG readings, the AS7000 integrates a digital processor which implements algorithms developed by ams. These convert the PPG readings into digital HRM and HRV values.

When the AS7000 is paired with an external accelerometer, these algorithms also filter out motion artifacts attributable to the beating of the heart which interfere with PPG readings. Combined with the low noise and high sensitivity of the AS7000’s analog circuitry, this means that the module can maintain high accuracy whether the user is resting or exercising.

The AS7000’s low-power design is particularly well suited to applications in fitness bands, smart watches, sports watches, and devices in which board space is limited and in which users look for extended, multi-day intervals between battery recharges.

“Unique ams innovations which reduce noise, compensate for motion artifacts and conserve energy have resulted in a breakthrough for the health-monitoring and fitness-monitoring markets.The AS7000 is ideally suited to customers seeking a total solution that enables a quick time to market when adding health and fitness features to their wearables,” said Ronald Tingl, Biosensors Senior Marketing Manager for the Advanced Optical Solutions Division.

Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), a leading global university-research consortium for semiconductor technologies, today announced that ARM has joined SRC’s Global Research Collaboration (GRC) program.

Research in the GRC program focuses on current semiconductor industry priorities, including the continued scaling of semiconductor technologies and finding diverse applications for them. The program has also expanded into new areas, including cybersecurity, technologies at the convergence of semiconductors and biology, novel approaches to energy-efficient computing, and the Internet of Things.

“We are pleased to have ARM join SRC’s Global Research Collaboration program.  GRC members are among the top semiconductor companies in the world and ARM is no exception,” said Celia Merzbacher, Vice President for Innovative Partnerships at SRC. “SRC supports a broad portfolio of innovative research driven by long-term industry needs. Members get access to the results in near real time and to the SRC-supported network of university researchers, comprising hundreds of faculty and thousands of students worldwide annually.  SRC has a record of investing in early stage research that had enormous impact industry-wide.”

“As process geometries shrink, the challenges of improving performance and energy efficiency through high levels of SoC integration are increasingly complex,” said Eric Hennenhoefer, Vice President, ARM Research. “The most effective way of addressing these challenges is through collaborative R&D. Joining SRC allows ARM to make a contribution and help drive the advancements from which the semiconductor industry as a whole can benefit.”

By Shannon Davis, Web Editor

Overheard @The ConFab: “I feel the best I’ve felt about semi since 2009.” –Mike Noonen, Silicon Catalyst

Monday’s research and development panel discussion at The ConFab 2014 started on that optimistic note as Moderator Scott Jones of AlixPartners led a discussion on Optimizing R&D Collaboration. Panelists Chris Danely of JP Morgan, Lode Lauwers of imec, Rory McInerney of Intel and Mike Noonen of Silicon Catalyst discussed where the next big growth drivers will come from and the ability of the industry to continue scaling and remain on Moore’s Law through the introduction of new technologies such as EUV, Advanced Packaging and 450mm. The panel also touched on the role startups will play and how increased collaboration can benefit the industry.

Here are highlights from Monday’s discussion.

How do you feel about the semiconductor cycle – is that at a positive point for innovation and small, start-up companies?

Mike Noonen: I feel the best about I’ve felt about semi since 2009. Without a doubt. When you combine that situation that we’re in with a couple driving forces, all of that has fundamental benefits to the semiconductor business at large. You take those mega trends that are not leading edge applications with the challenge of Moore’s Law – those are developing a whole host of innovation. We think this is a great time to think about how to reinvigorate startups – this is the best time to think about innovation.

From left to right: Panelists Chris Danely of JP Morgan, Mike Noonen of Silicon Catalyst, Lode Lauwers of imec, and Rory McInerney of Intel

From left to right: Panelists Chris Danely of JP Morgan, Mike Noonen of Silicon Catalyst, Lode Lauwers of imec, and Rory McInerney of Intel

Consolidation is a big theme right now. Is this something that’s holding us back the industry?

Rory McInerney: I don’t think the industry is consolidating for us as much as we think. The big players are still HP, Lenovo, etc. The new players are Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. – many didn’t exist 10 years ago. Within our world, there’s the traditional space, but there’s a ton of new stuff in the cloud and server segment.

Tell us some of the most exciting areas Intel is participating in.

Rory McInerney: On the data center side, we do want our 10 and 7nm, but one of the drivers of our business is the massive amount of data being generated around the world. There are tens of billions of devices that will be connected to the Internet in the few years. The only commonality in the [IoT] numbers is that they go up. All of them will have some element of connectivity and with that comes data. And that drives a virtual cycle. In our business, we love this – my point is, there’s a huge room for innovation. The innovation isn’t just the device but the software and application side.

How do investors view the emerging markets and trends? Do they see the opportunities or are they still focusing on traditional markets?

Chris Danely: From a broad perspective, the thing that an analyst looks at – are they playing to their strengths? You might have a company that starts out very successful, but they don’t play to their strengths and start to waste money. For example, Texas Instruments has taken their R&D down, but still outgrow the industry, because they play to their strengths. Another example is Intel – in the last 3 years, they were in the foundry business – we see a lot of potential to upset the apple cart in the foundry business. Nobody else could do this, but this is an area where we see them exploiting their strengths. Is the company playing to its strengths? We also look at ARM on servers – we don’t know if this is going to work or not, but I don’t think this changing the landscape of the industry. There’s still a bright future with semiconductor stocks.

How can executives communicate their R&D strategy better?

Chris Danely: I’ll use my personal experience – you want to keep that message very simple. Identify the growth trends. Make sure the message goes out continuously. Don’t be afraid to use a few buzz words/charts.

Lode Lauwers: If I may, Wall Street is looking in the short term. Time scale [for R&D] is close to 15 years. I don’t know if Wall Street has that visibility. I think a company should consider R&D as a long term investment. We go for long term engagements.

Rory McInerney: It’s a portfolio question in terms of R&D – you’re going to have your short term and your long term investments. I don’t think Wall Street is looking at all the details of investments. I think that our investments on the product side go out 10 years, but they’re small compared to our other investments.

Chris Danely: Wall Street has to consider about things on a six month basis.

Mike Noonen: Biotech, which has a very long time to market, is the second largest venture capital in the US. Biotech has remained lucrative and interesting in the US. In this area, companies go after a single application or problem, and it’s a vibrant and healthy investment. The take away is – it’s all about the economics. It might enable small start ups to innovate and then be acquired.

How should the industry leverage a company like imec?

Lode Lauwers: More than ever, you need to build partnerships. In this industry, we used to say, “Our company can work on its own.” Now, your ecosystem needs to become wider. Ten years ago, people were still sponsoring R&D. Now we are assessed in every individual area, deliverable by deliverable, on does it benefit, is there ROI. You need to be able to deliver relevant work. A company on its own doesn’t always have these abilities in house. Using imec, it’s like building on competences.

Do you see differences in how you approach partnerships?

Chris Danely: The CEOs and CFOs of semi companies are under pressure to not increase expenses, and that’s stifled risk-taking. Some are now approaching R&D through acquisition of startups with personnel – rather than partnerships.

Do you think these companies are larger – semi is a part of a much larger landscape – do you think this might drive the industry/change the landscape?

Rory McInerney: About 70-80 percent of cloud computing today is driven by the social media. That didn’t exist 5 years ago. There is a direct link between that and the changing semi landscape.

What is the biggest risk in the industry right now?

Chris Danely: Saturation. Semi companies are profitable, but we’re starting to see a lot of them, especially as fablite and fabless models are catching on.

Moderator Scott Jones of AlixPartners

Moderator Scott Jones of AlixPartners

By Dr. Ramesh Ramadoss, Formfactor, San Jose, CA

Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) are a class of miniature devices and systems fabricated by micromachining processes. MEMS devices have critical dimensions in the range of 100 nm to 1000 µm (or 1 mm). MEMS technology is a precursor to the relatively more popular field of Nanotechnology, which refers to science, engineering and technology below 100 nm down to the atomic scale. Occasionally, MEMS devices with dimensions in the millimeter-range are referred to as meso-scale MEMS devices. Figure 1 shows relevant dimensional scale alongside biological matter.  

 Figure 1. Dimensional scale of MEMS and Nanotechnology. (Adapted from Nguyen et al. [1]).

Figure 1. Dimensional scale of MEMS and Nanotechnology. (Adapted from Nguyen et al. [1]).

Initially, MEMS technology was based on silicon using bulk micromachining and surface micromachining processes. Figure 2 shows an SEM image of a surface micromachining based polysilicon MEMS device, an electrostatic motor, which consists of twelve fixed stator electrodes and a rotor that spins around the pivot at its center. Gradually, other materials such as glass, ceramics and polymers have been adapted for MEMS. Especially, polymers are attractive for biomedical applications due to their bio-compatibility, low cost, and suitability for rapid prototyping. Other micromachining processes employed for fabrication of MEMS include dry plasma etching, electroplating, laser machining, micromilling, micromolding, stereolithography, and inkjet printing.


Figure 2. An SEM image of a MEMS electrostatic motor. (Source:

Figure 2. An SEM image of a MEMS electrostatic motor. (Source:

MEMS devices can actuate or sense on a micro-scale. MEMS devices can function individually or in combination with other devices to generate effects of meso- or macro- scale. Some advantages of MEMS devices include small size, light weight, low power consumption and high functionality compared to conventional devices. Further, MEMS technology offers cost reduction due to batch processing techniques similar to semiconductor Integrated Circuit (IC) manufacturing. Initially, MEMS technology emerged as an offshoot of the semiconductor industry and eventually established itself as a specialized field of study with a significant market share. According to Yole Développement, the MEMS industry market in 2012 was $11 billion, which is a 10 percent growth from the previous year.

MEMS applications

MEMS applications in various functional domains are shown in Figure 3. The term “functional domain” is used to refer to a domain in which the MEMS device performs a function such as sensing or actuation. In the early stages, MEMS proved to be a revolutionary technology in various fields of the physical domain such as Mechanical (e.g., Pressure sensors, Accelerometers, and Gyroscopes), Microfluidics (e.g., Inkjet nozzles), Acoustics (e.g., Microphone), RF MEMS (e.g., Switches and Resonators), and Optical MEMS (e.g., Micromirrors). Gradually, MEMS technology has demonstrated unique solutions and delivered innovative products in chemical, biological and medical domains as well. MEMS have penetrated into consumer electronics, home appliances, automotive industry, aerospace industry, biomedical industry, recreation and sports [2].

Figure 3. MEMS applications in various functional domains.

Figure 3. MEMS applications in various functional domains.

Typically, electronics are used to interface MEMS devices from its functional domain (i.e., Physical, Chemical, or Biological) to the electrical domain for signal transduction and/or recording. It should be pointed out that the term MEMS was originally coined to refer to miniature sensors and actuators operating between electrical and mechanical domains. Gradually, the term MEMS has evolved to encompass a wide variety of other microdevices fabricated by micromachining. For example, a micromachined electrochemical sensor is referred to as a MEMS device even though there is no functional role played by this device in the mechanical domain. Similarly, the term “BioMEMS” is used to refer to the science and technology of microdevices fabricated by micromachining for biological and medical applications. BioMEMS may or may not include any electrical or mechanical functions. BioMEMS application areas include biomedical transducers, microfluidics, medical implants, microsurgical tools, and tissue engineering. As shown in Figure 4, the global BioMEMS market is expected to almost triple in size, from $1.9 billion in 2012 to $6.6 billion in 2018 [3].

Figure 4. BioMEMS market forecast by Yole Développement [3]. (Source:

Figure 4. BioMEMS market forecast by Yole Développement [3]. (Source:

 BioMEMS applications

 In this section, a few representative BioMEMS applications are presented. A survey of all products available on the market is beyond the scope of this article.

a) MEMS Pressure Sensors The first MEMS devices to be used in the biomedical industry were reusable blood pressure sensors in the 1980s. MEMS pressure sensors have the largest class of applications including disposable blood pressure, intraocular pressure (IOP), intracranial pressure (ICP), intrauterine pressure, and angioplasty. Some manufacturers of MEMS pressure sensors for biomedical applications include CardioMEMS, Freescale semiconductors, GE sensing, Measurement Specialties, Omron, Sensimed AG and Silicon Microstructures.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world after cataracts. MEMS implantable pressure sensors are used for continuous IOP monitoring in Glaucoma patients. A normal eye maintains a positive IOP in the range of 10-22 mmHg. Abnormal elevation (> 22 mmHg) and fluctuation of IOP are considered the main risk factors for glaucoma. Glaucoma, often without any pain or significant symptoms, can cause an irreversible and incurable damage to the optic nerve. This initially affects the peripheral vision and possibly leads to blindness without timely lifetime treatment. Therefore, it is critical to accurately monitor IOP and provide prompt treatments at the early stages of glaucoma development. Sensimed’s TriggerfishTM implantable MEMS IOP sensor is shown in Figure 5. It consists of a disposable contact lens with a MEMS strain-gage pressure sensor element, an embedded loop antenna (golden rings), and an ASIC microprocessor (2mmx2mm chip). The MEMS sensor includes a circular active outer ring and passive strain gages to measure corneal curvature changes in response to IOP. The loop antenna in the lens receives power from the external monitoring system and sends information back to the system.

Figure 5. Sensimed’s TriggerfishTM implantable MEMS IOP sensor.  (Source:

Figure 5. Sensimed’s TriggerfishTM implantable MEMS IOP sensor. (Source:

b)      MEMS Inertial Sensors MEMS accelerometers are used in defibrillators and pacemakers. Some patients exhibit unusually fast or chaotic heart beats and thus are at a high risk of cardiac arrest or a heart attack. An implantable defibrillator restores a normal heart rhythm by providing electrical shocks to the heart during abnormal conditions. Some peoples’ hearts beat too slowly, and this may be related to the natural aging process or a genetic condition. A pacemaker maintains a proper heart beat by transmitting electrical impulses to the heart. Conventional pacemakers were fixed rate. Modern pacemakers employ MEMS accelerometers and are capable of adjusting heart rate in accordance with the patient’s physical activity. Medtronic is a leading manufacturer of MEMS based defibrillators and pacemakers. Figure 6 shows a MEMS accelerometer-based Medtronic’s SureScanTM pacemaker and implantation of a pacemaker inside the body next to the heart. This pacemaker is designed to be compatible with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Figure 6a.

Figure 6a.

Ramesh F6b

MEMS inertial sensors (accelerometers and gyroscopes) were employed to develop one of the most unique wheelchairs, the iBOTTM Mobility system, shown in Figure 7. A combination of multiple inertial sensors in this system enables the user to operate the wheelchair and lift to a standing height just balancing on two wheels. This allows the wheelchair user to interact with others face-to-face. The iBOTTM system was developed by Dean Kamen in a partnership between DEKA and Johnson and Johnson’s Independence Technology division. Unfortunately, it is no longer available for sale from Independence Technology. Another related example is the Segway PT, a two-wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered electric vehicle, also invented by Dean Kamen. It is produced by Segway Inc. of New Hampshire, USA.

Figure 7.  Independence Technology’s iBOTTM mobility system. (source:

Figure 7. Independence Technology’s iBOTTM mobility system. (source:

c)       MEMS Hearing-Aid Transducer A hearing-aid is an electroacoustic device used to receive, amplify and radiate sound into the ear. The goal of a hearing aid is to compensate for the hearing loss and thus make audio communication more intelligible for the user. In the US, hearing aids are considered medical devices and are regulated by the FDA. According to NIH, approximately 17 percent (36 million) of American adults report some degree of hearing loss. There is a strong relationship between age and reported hearing loss. Also, about 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard-of-hearing.

 According to statistics, 80% of those who could benefit from a hearing-aid chose not to use one. The reasons include reluctance to recognize hearing loss and social stigma associated with common misconceptions about wearing hearing aids. Thus, it is highly desirable to miniaturize hearing-aids without compromising performance. MEMS technology enables reduction of form factor, cost, and power consumption compared to conventional hearing-aid solutions. Figure 8 shows Analog Devices small size (7.3 mm3) MEMS microphone suitable for hearing-aid applications.

Figure 8. Analog Devices MEMS microphone for hearing-aid applications. (Source:

Figure 8. Analog Devices MEMS microphone for hearing-aid applications. (Source:

d)      Microfluidics for diagnostics Microfluidics involve movement, mixing and control of small volumes (nanoliters) of fluids. A typical microfluidic system is comprised of needles, channels, valves, pumps, mixers, filters, sensors, reservoirs, and dispensers. Microfluidics enable bedside or at the point-of-care (POC) medical diagnosis. Especially, POC diagnosis is important in developing countries where access to centralized hospitals is limited and expensive. A POC diagnostic microfluidic system uses bodily fluids (saliva, blood, or urine samples) to perform sample preconditioning, sample fractionation, signal amplification, analyte detection, data analysis, and results display. In 1985, Unipath introduced the first POC microfluidic device, ClearBlueTM, for pregnancy test from urine sample and is still available on the market. Recently, a comprehensive review article on the commercialization of microfluidic devices for POC diagnostics was published by Chin et al. [4].

One of the world’s most significant public health challenges, particularly in low- and middle- income countries, remains to be HIV/AIDS. According to WHO, 34 million people are living with HIV, and around 7 million eligible people are waiting for antiretroviral therapy. POC diagnosis is very crucial for the enumeration of absolute numbers of T-helper cells, commonly referred to as a CD4 count, for monitoring the course of immunosuppression caused by HIV and the initiation of antiretroviral therapy. The Alere Pima™ CD4 test system, shown in Figure 9, offers a revolutionary POC solution by providing an absolute CD4 count from either a fingerstick or a venous whole blood sample. The test requires approximately 25 microliters of whole blood sample to be loaded into the cartridge capillary. All test reagents are sealed within the disposable cartridge. On insertion of the cartridge into the analyzer, the test process automatically begins and displays direct CD4 measurement within 20 minutes.

Figure 9. Alere’s PimaTM point-of-care CD4 test system: a) disposable cartridge, and b) analyzer with a slot for cartridge insertion. (Source:

Figure 9. Alere’s PimaTM point-of-care CD4 test system: a) disposable cartridge, and b) analyzer with a slot for cartridge insertion. (Source:

Ramesh F9b

e)      Microfluidics for drug delivery Microfluidics enable advanced drug delivery technologies such as triggered release, timed release and targeted delivery. Some applications include transdermal drug delivery (e.g., microneedle arrays and needle-less jet-based system), implantable drug delivery systems (e.g., drug-eluting stents and insulin pump), and drug delivery vehicles (e.g., micro- and nano particles).

In the US, Diabetes mellitus has a mortality of 180,000 per year. It can be managed through proper diet and exercise, glucose-lowering oral medications and/or insulin therapy. One of the most notable insulin delivery systems for diabetes therapy, JewelPUMPTM, is shown in Figure 10. This system was developed by Debiotech in collaboration with STMicroelectronics. The MEMS nanopumpTM mounted on a disposable skin patch provides continuous insulin through jet-based infusion delivery. The whole system weighs only 25 grams and holds up to 500 units of insulin and can be used for a 7 day period without any need for refill or replacement. The JewelPUMPTM is directly programmed from a large display remote controller. It can be attached to the body using a disposable skin patch and can be detached when necessary, thereby offering more freedom to the patient.


Figure 10b. Attachment of the system to the body using a disposable skin patch (left) JewelPUMPTM (middle) and programmable remote controller (right) (Source:

Figure 10b. Attachment of the system to the body using a disposable skin patch (left) JewelPUMPTM (middle) and programmable remote controller (right) (Source:

f)       Micromachined needles Micromachining enables fabrication of needles smaller than 300 µm, which is the limit of conventional machining methods. Typically, the length of the MEMS-based microneedles is less than 1 mm. Microneedles have been used for drug delivery, bio-signal recording electrodes, blood extraction, fluid sampling, cancer therapy, and microdialysis. Frequently, microneedles are integrated and used in conjunction with microfluidic systems. Solid and hollow microneedles have been fabricated out of silicon, glass, metals, and polymers using micromachining processes. Microneedles have been demonstrated with various body shapes (cylindrical, canonical, pyramid, candle, spike, spear, square, pentagonal, hexagonal, octagonal and rocket shape) and tip shapes (volcano, snake fang, cylindrical, canonical, micro-hypodermis and tapered). Figure 11 shows solid microneedles fabricated by reactive ion etching of silicon [5] and hollow microneedles fabricated by laser machining of a polymer.

Figure 11a. Micromachined needles: silicon based solid needles. (Source: Henry et al. [5]).

Figure 11a. Micromachined needles: silicon based solid needles. (Source: Henry et al. [5]).

Figure 11a. Micromachined needles: polymer based hollow needles. (Source:

Figure 11a. Micromachined needles: polymer based hollow needles. (Source:

g)      Microsurgical tools Surgery is treatment of diseases or other ailments through manual and instrumental methods. In surgery, the majority of trauma to the patient is caused by the surgeon’s incisions to gain access to the surgical site. Minimally invasive surgical (MIS) procedure aims to provide diagnosis, monitoring, or treatment of diseases by performing operations with very small incisions or sometimes through natural orifices. Advantages of MIS over conventional open surgery includes less pain, minimal injury to tissues, minimal scarring, reduced recovery time, shorter hospital visits, faster return to normal activities and often lower cost to the patient. Common MIS procedures include angioplasty, catheterization, endoscopy, laparoscopy, and neurosurgery. MEMS based microsurgical tools have been identified as a key enabling technology for MIS [6]. A pair of silicon MEMS based microtweezers and metal MEMS based biopsy forceps are shown in Figure 12. It should be noted that some of these feasibility demonstrations have yet to be qualified for clinical applications.

Figure 12a. Micromachined surgical tools: a pair of silicon MEMS tweezers. (Source:

Figure 12a. Micromachined surgical tools: a pair of silicon MEMS tweezers. (Source:

Figure 12b. Micromachined surgical tools: a pair of metal MEMS biopsy forceps. (Source:

Figure 12b. Micromachined surgical tools: a pair of metal MEMS biopsy forceps. (Source:

Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. One of the common fatal cardiovascular conditions is narrowing of blood vessels due to accumulation of plaque that can lead to heart attack, stroke and other serious issues. Angioplasty is a procedure designed to restore normal blood flow through clogged or blocked arteries. A cardiac stent is inserted into a blood vessel via a catheter and then expanded to enlarge the vessel. There are two general types of stents: Metal stents and polymer stents. Metal stents are the conventional type. Two main types of polymer stents are resorbable and nonresorbable. The former type is attractive as it may be absorbed or dissolved inside the body. Figure 13 shows a stent fabricated on a bio-resorbable polymer by laser micromachining. 

Figure 13. Micromachined resorbable polymer stent. (Source:

Figure 13. Micromachined resorbable polymer stent. (Source:

Other BioMEMS applications include tissue engineering [7] and microfluidics for cell biology, proteomics, and genomics [8]. A comprehensive coverage of various BioMEMS applications can be found in the recent books [9] and [10].

  In the 21st century, BioMEMS devices are anticipated to revolutionize the biomedical industry similar to that of semiconductor devices to the electronics industry in the last century. As evident from the market trend, there are tremendous opportunities for MEMS in the biomedical industry. However, FDA approval process necessary for certain applications can cause significant delays for new BioMEMS devices entering the market.


1.       N.-T. Nguyen, S. A. M. Shaegh, N. Kashaninejad, and D.-T. Phan, “Design, fabrication and characterization of drug delivery systems based on lab-on-a-chip technology,” Advanced drug delivery reviews (2013).

2.       M. Bourne, A Consumer’s Guide to MEMS & Nanotechnology, Bourne Research LLC, 1st edition, 2007.

3.       BioMEMS 2013: Microsystem Device Market for Healthcare Applications, Yole Developpment, France, Feb. 2013.

4.       C.D. Chin, V. Linder, and S. K. Sia. “Commercialization of microfluidic point-of-care diagnostic devices,” Lab on a Chip 12.12 (2012): 2118-2134.

5.       S. Henry, D. V. Mc Allister, M. G. Allen and M. R. Prausnitz, “Microfabricated Microneedles: A Novel Approach to Transdermal Drug Delivery,” Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 1998, 87, pp. 922-925.

6.       K. Rebello, “Applications of MEMS in Surgery,” Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 92, no. 1, Jan. 2004, pp. 43-55.

7.       C. M. Puleo,  H. C. Yeh,  T. H. Wang, “Applications of MEMS technologies in tissue engineering,” Tissue Engineering, 13(12), 2007, pp. 2839-2854.

8.       F. A. Gomez, Biological Applications of Microfluidics, Wiley-Interscience, 1st edition, 2008.

9.       A. Folch, Introduction to BioMEMS, CRC Press, 1st edition, 2013.

10.   Shekhar Bhansali (Editor), and Abhay Vasudev (Editor), MEMS for Biomedical Applications, Woodhead Publishing, 1st edition, 2012.

Dr. Ramesh Ramadoss is currently employed as a Senior Manager in the MicroProbe Product Group of FormFactor Inc., San Jose, California. He received his B.E. degree from Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, India in May 1998 and Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder in May 2003. From June 2003 to Dec. 2007, he was employed as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama. From Jan. 2008 to Mar. 2012, he was employed as a Program Manager, MEMS R&D, FormFactor Inc., Livermore, California. Since April 2012, he has been employed at MicroProbe, San Jose, CA (Acquired by FormFactor Inc.). He is the author or coauthor of 3 book chapters and 53 papers in the MEMS field (Google Scholar Citations: 476, h-index: 14, and i10-index: 17). He has conducted MEMS R&D projects for DARPA, NASA, US Army, AOARD, Sandia National Labs, Motorola Labs, Foster-Miller Inc. and FormFactor Inc.

Researchers and physicians at Johns Hopkins University will collaborate with the nanoelectronics R&D center imec to advance silicon applications in healthcare, beginning with development of a device to enable a broad range of clinical tests. The corresponding tests will be performed outside the laboratory. The collaboration, announced today, will combine the Johns Hopkins clinical and research expertise with imec’s nanoelectronics capabilities. The two organizations plan to forge strategic ties with additional collaborators in the healthcare and technology sectors.

“Johns Hopkins has always prioritized innovative and transformative research opportunities,” said Landon King, MD, the David Marine Professor of Medicine and executive vice dean of the school of medicine. “Our new collaboration with imec is such an opportunity, and we very much look forward to leveraging our respective strengths across the university in biomedical and nanotechnology research to improve patient diagnosis and care throughout the world.”

Imec and Johns Hopkins University hope to develop the next generation of “lab on a chip” concepts based on imec technology. The idea is that such a disposable chip could be loaded with a sample of blood, saliva or urine and then quickly analyzed using a smartphone, tablet or computer, making diagnostic testing faster and easier for applications such as disease monitoring and management, disease surveillance, rural health care and clinical trials. Compared with the current system of sending samples to a laboratory for testing, such an advance would be “the healthcare equivalent of transforming a rotary telephone into the iPhone,” said Drew Pardoll, MD, PhD, the Martin Abeloff Professor of Oncology. Pardoll leads the advisory board for the Johns Hopkins-imec collaboration, which will work to extend new applications of silicon nanotechnology into multiple areas of medicine.

“This relationship with Johns Hopkins is an important step toward creating a powerful cross-disciplinary ecosystem with consumer electronics and mobile companies, medical device manufacturers, research centers and the broader bio-pharma and semiconductor industries, to create the combined expertise required to address huge healthcare challenges that lie ahead,” stated Luc Van den Hove, CEO at imec. “Only through close collaboration will we be able to develop technology solutions for more accurate, reliable and low-cost diagnostics that pave the way to better, predictive and preventive home-based personal health care.”

Rudi Cartuyvels, senior vice president of smart systems at imec, added, “The unique combination of imec’s nanoelectronics expertise with Johns Hopkins’ proven medical sciences and clinical expertise will enable us to jointly develop game changing solutions for more effective healthcare.”

Imec, established as an independent non-profit research organization in 1984, is a leader in the fields of silicon nanotechnology, semiconductors and bioelectronics. Founding faculty on the Johns Hopkins side of the collaboration include Robert Bollinger, M.D., M.P.H., a professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education (CCGHE); Stuart Ray, M.D., FIDSA, professor of Medicine and Oncology in the Division of Infectious Diseases of the Department of Medicine; Denis Wirtz, the Theophilus Halley Smoot Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and William Osburn, Ph.D., an instructor in the Division of Infectious Diseases. This new initiative significantly expands upon an established relationship between imec and JHU’s School of Engineering.

Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), a university-research consortium for semiconductor technologies, today launched the Semiconductor Synthetic Biology (SSB) research program on hybrid bio-semiconductor systems to provide insights and opportunities for future information and communication technologies. The program will initially fund research at six universities: MIT, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Yale, Georgia Tech, Brigham Young and the University of Washington.

Funded by SRC’s Global Research Collaboration (GRC), SSB concentrates on synergies between synthetic biology and semiconductor technology that can foster exploratory, multi-disciplinary, longer-term university research leading to novel, breakthrough solutions for a wide range of industries. Results from the university research, guided by semiconductor industry needs, should significantly enhance and accelerate opportunities for advancing properties, design and applications for future generations of integrated circuits.

“The role of the SSB program is to stimulate non-traditional thinking about the issues facing the semiconductor industry, and these forward-looking projects will aggressively explore new dimensions for pairing biological activities and semiconductors to benefit society,” said Dr. Steven Hillenius, executive director for SRC-GRC. “We intend to seek new collaborative initiatives with the National Science Foundation and other agencies as part of the SSB program with the goal of producing disruptive information technologies for the future.”

The first stage of the new program will support six exploratory projects in three related, but distinct, areas: (1) Cytomorphic-Semiconductor Circuit Design that applies lessons from cell biology to new chip architectures and vice versa; (2) Bio-Electric Sensors, Actuators and Energy Sources dedicated to enabling hybrid semiconductor-biological systems; and (3) Molecular-precision Additive Fabrication that creates manufacturing processes at the few-nanometer scale that are inspired by biology. Results from this Stage 1 research program will be used to guide future generations of SSB research. Approximately $2.25M will be invested by SRC-GRC for Phase 1 research.

“University researchers welcome this academia-industry partnership to do long-term research,” said Professor Rahul Sarpeshkar of MIT. “Living cells can offer ground-breaking solutions to some hard problems faced by the semiconductor industry because they solved similar problems more than a billion years ago. Controlled chemical reactions and molecular flows in cells are the ultimate miniaturization of electronics to the atomic and molecular scale.”

Specific profiles of the three areas of research are:

Cytomorphic-Semiconductor Circuit Design

Designers for semiconductor circuits and systems have begun to look to biological sciences for new approaches to analog and digital design and to circuits and system architectures, especially for minimum-energy electronic systems. The term ‘cytomorphic electronics’ refers to electronic circuits and information processing inspired by the operation of chemical circuits and information processing in cells.

Bioelectric Sensors, Actuators and Energy Sources

Biological sensors have the potential to play an important role in multi-functional semiconductor systems. SRC plans to integrate live cells with CMOS technology and thus form a hybrid bio-semiconductor system that provides high signal sensitivity and specificity at low operating energy.

Molecular-precision Additive Fabrication

As the demands continue to grow for the most exacting pattern formation for semiconductor fabrication — and feature sizes shrink to the 5 nanometer (nm) regime — molecular-based self-assembly could offer an alternative to lithographically driven manufacturing. DNA can be used as an active agent to provide information content to guide structure formation. SRC plans to pursue processes that will both improve fabrication yields and provide purification of correctly formed structures to significantly reduce the occurrence of defects in making DNA nanostructures.

CEA-Leti, Fraunhofer IPMS-CNT and three European companies — IPDiA, Picosun and SENTECH Instruments — have launched a project to industrialize 3D integrated capacitors with world-record density.

The two-year, EC-funded PICS project is designed to develop a disruptive technology through the development of innovative ALD materials and tools that results in a new world record for integrated capacitor densities (over 500nF/mm2) combined with higher breakdown voltages. It will strengthen the SME partners’ position in several markets, such as automotive, medical and lighting, by offering an even higher integration level and more miniaturization.

The fast development of applications based on smart and miniaturized sensors in aerospace, medical, lighting and automotive domains has increasingly linked requirements of electronic modules to higher integration levels and miniaturization (to increase the functionality combination and complexity within a single package). At the same time, reliability and robustness are required to ensure long operation and placement of the sensors as close as possible to the “hottest” areas for efficient monitoring.

For these applications, passive components are no longer commodities. Capacitors are indeed key components in electronic modules, and high-capacitance density is required to optimize – among other performance requirements – power-supply and high decoupling capabilities. Dramatically improved capacitance density also is required because of the smaller size of the package.

IPDiA has for many years developed an integrated capacitors technology that out performs current technologies (e.g. tantalum capacitors) in terms of stability in temperature, voltage, aging and reliability. Now, a technological solution is needed to achieve higher capacitance densities, reduce power consumption and improve reliability. The key enabling technology chosen to bridge this technological gap is atomic layer deposition (ALD) that allows an impressive quality of dielectric.

The PICS project consortium will address all related technological challenges and set up a cost-effective industrial solution. Picosun will develop ALD tools adapted to IPDiA’s 3D trench capacitors. SENTECH Instruments will provide a new solution to more accurately etch high-K dielectric materials. CEA-Leti and Fraunhofer IPMS-CNT will help the SMEs create innovative technological solutions to improve their competitiveness and gain market share. Finally, IPDiA will manage the industrialization of these processes.

About PICS The PICS project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program managed by REA-Research Executive Agency (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° FP7-SME-2013-2-606149.

The PICS Project will last for two years and the consortium consists of three SMEs: IPDiA (France, coordinator), Picosun (Finland) and Sentech Instruments (Germany), and two leading research organizations: Fraunhofer IPMS-CNT (Germany) and CEA-Leti (France). Project objectives are to bring to mass production high density and high voltage capacitors based on ALD and etching development. Further information is available at


About IPDiA IPDiA is a preferred supplier of high performance, high stability and high reliability silicon passive components to customers in the medical, automotive, communication, computer, industrial, and defense/aerospace markets. The company portfolio includes standard component devices such as silicon capacitors, RF filters, RF baluns, ESD protection devices as well as customized devices. IPDiA headquarters are located in Caen, France. The company operates design centers, sales and marketing offices and a manufacturing facility certified ISO 9001 / 14001 / 18001 / 13485 as well as ISO TS 16949 for the Automotive market. For further information, please visit

About Picosun Picosun is the world leading provider of ALD solutions for global industries. Picosun’s pioneering, unmatched expertise in ALD equipment design and manufacturing reaches back to the invention of the technology itself. Today, PICOSUN™ ALD systems are in daily production use in numerous prominent industries around the globe. Picosun is based in Finland, it has its subsidiaries in USA and Singapore, and world-wide sales and support network. For more information, visit


About SENTECH Instruments SENTECH Instruments GmbH develops, manufactures, and sells worldwide advanced quality instrumentation for Plasma Process Technology, Thin Film Measurement, and Photovoltaics. The medium-sized company founded in 1990 has grown fast over the last decades and has today 60 employees. SENTECH is located in Berlin, capital of Germany, and has moved to its own company building in 2010 in order to expand its production facilities.

SENTECH plasma etchers and deposition systems including ALD support leading-edge applications. They feature high flexibility, reliability, and low cost of ownership. SENTECH’s plasma products are developed and manufactured in-house and thus allow for customer-specific adaptations. More than 300 units have been sold to research facilities and industry for applications in nanotechnology, micro-optics, and optoelectronics. More information:

About Fraunhofer IPMS-CNT Fraunhofer IPMS-CNT is a German research institute that develops advanced 300 mm semiconductor process solutions for Front-End and Back-End-of Line applications on state-of-the-art process- and analytical equipment. Research is focused on process development enabling 300 mm production, innovative materials and its integration into Systems (SoC/SiP) as well as nanopatterning through electron beam lithography. Fraunhofer is largest application-oriented research organization in Europe with 66 institutes and 22,000 employees. More information:

About CEA-Leti By creating innovation and transferring it to industry, Leti is the bridge between basic research and production of micro- and nanotechnologies that improve the lives of people around the world. Backed by its portfolio of 2,200 patents, Leti partners with large industrials, SMEs and startups to tailor advanced solutions that strengthen their competitive positions. It has launched more than 50 startups. Its 8,000m² of new-generation cleanroom space feature 200mm and 300mm wafer processing of micro and nano solutions for applications ranging from space to smart devices. Leti’s staff of more than 1,700 includes 200 assignees from partner companies. Leti is based in Grenoble, France, and has offices in Silicon Valley, Calif., and Tokyo. Visit for more information.