COE researchers seek patents on sensor and MEMS technology

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New laser-based system for building microcomponents

Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Xiaochun Li has developed a new method for making extremely small, precision microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).

MEMS work as the “eyes and arms” of microelectronic systems, which rely on microelectronic integrated circuits to serve as the “brains” of the system.

Li’s new method involves a laser-based micromanufacturing system that incorporates laser microdeposition and micromachining. Li developed a micro powder-feeding mechanism that deposited micro stainless steel and copper powders though a tiny, microcapillary tube to produce microcomponents. He also used a laser to further enhance the production of the microcomponents.

Li says his goal with the new method is to manufacture three-dimensional microcomponents using alloys, metals and composite materials. “We can deal with many materials,” he says, and thus provide a way to make MEMS beyond the traditional silicon-based systems. “The application is very broad.”

For information on licensing this technology, contact Nadia Sifri. Email:, Phone: 608/263-0871


A very small strain sensor for nonconducting material

Shear-strain sensors are needed in a variety of applications, such as tactile feel for robotics, remote hazardous materials handling, and detection of fluid flow. But many of today’s shear-strain sensors are either limited in their applications, cannot be assembled in arrays, or are expensive to use.

Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Yuri Shkel has developed a novel class of strain sensors that can be used for a variety of sensing needs. Shkel’s strain sensors are aimed at sensing shear deformation in nearly any kind of dielectric — or nonconducting — material, such as plastics, organic polymers, resins, paints, clay materials and biological materials.

The sensor is a solid-state, single-plate device in which pairs of electrodes are positioned in close proximity to the material being measured. The strain sensors can then detect “electrostriction,” essentially what occurs with dielectric properties when the material undergoes shear deformation.

Shearing strain, or deformation, is what occurs when material is attached to something and force is applied along the surface.

“There are many good methods to measure normal strain,” Shkel says. “For shearing strain, it’s not as easy to do. To design a sensor to measure shear strain is extremely challenging. It needs to be sensitive, yet tolerant to large forces.”

Shkel says the new strain sensors can be made very small — 100 microns in size — and can be used on nearly any kind of dielectric material of any size, shape or characteristic. And because the technology behind the sensors is relatively simple, they could be manufactured at lower costs than current sensors.

“It’s very simple,” he says.

For information on licensing this technology, contact John F. Hardiman. Email:, Phone: (608) 265-4209

Xiaochun  Li

Xiaochun Li (large image)

Laser-based micro-SDM system

Laser-based micro-SDM system (large image)

Manufacturing cycle for the micro-SDM process

Manufacturing cycle for the micro-SDM process (large image)

Yuri M. Shkel

Yuri M. Shkel (large image)