MEMS and Nano devices are extremely small -- for example, MEMS and Nanotechnology has made possible electrically-driven motors smaller than the diameter of a human hair (right) -- but MEMS and Nanotechnology is not primarily about size.
MEMS and Nanotechnology is also not about making things out of silicon, even though silicon possesses excellent materials properties, which make it an attractive choice for many high-performance mechanical applications; for example, the strength-to-weight ratio for silicon is higher than many other engineering materials which allows very high-bandwidth mechanical devices to be realized.
Instead, the deep insight of MEMS and Nano is as a new manufacturing technology, a way of making complex electromechanical systems using batch fabrication techniques similar to those used for integrated circuits, and uniting these electromechanical elements together with electronics.
Advantages of MEMS and Nano Manufacturing
First, MEMS and Nanotechnology are extremely diverse technologies that could significantly affect every category of commercial and military product. MEMS and Nanotechnology are already used for tasks ranging from in-dwelling blood pressure monitoring to active suspension systems for automobiles. The nature of MEMS and Nanotechnology and its diversity of useful applications make it potentially a far more pervasive technology than even integrated circuit microchips.
Second, MEMS and Nanotechnology blurs the distinction between complex mechanical systems and integrated circuit electronics. Historically, sensors and actuators are the most costly and unreliable part of a macroscale sensor-actuator-electronics system. MEMS and Nanotechnology allows these complex electromechanical systems to be manufactured using batch fabrication techniques, decreasing the cost and increasing the reliability of the sensors and actuators to equal those of integrated circuits. Yet, even though the performance of MEMS and Nano devices is expected to be superior to macroscale components and systems, the price is predicted to be much lower.