The winners of the the yearly MEMS (Microelectromechanical system) design competition held by Sandia National Labs were announced a short time ago, and they’re pretty impressive. Students from CMU and Texas Tech were honored and their designs highlighted: the Texas Tech team built a set of millimeter-wide dragonfly wings, and CMU made an electrostatically-activated microvalve. These things are quite small.
The dragonfly wing design was chosen by Texas due to the simplicity of the beating pattern; this simplifies the mechanics of the device. The wings, each of which is about half a millimeter long, beat by a thermal reaction triggered by a current.
CMU had a slightly more practical entry, a tiny valve that can be opened or closed with a change of just picojoules in energy. This could be extremely useful in experiments where incredibly small amounts of material need to be introduced to a fragile environment — for instance, changing the pH level inside a single cell, or adding adhesive material in a microconstruction scenario.
Congratulations to the winners. These tiny devices are truly cool.