This blog post will be a little off-topic, but when inspiration strikes, why fight it? During the brief history of this blog, I have focussed mostly on my fledgling online business efforts. Those efforts are (for now at least) of a part-time variety, as I am a community college Biotechnology professor by day. My so-called “day job” bring a number of interesting and challenging activities into my life and I thought I would use this platform to share with the world one such effort.
My department was recently granted a subaward from a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant on a project run by the University of New Mexico’s Mechanical Engineering department. This grant is designed to develop curriculum materials designed to teach students about the world of MEMS – Micro Electronic & Mechanical Systems, with and emphasis on BioMEMS, which is where the nonliving world of MEMS and the living world of Biology intersect. To me, the most remarkable things about MEMS is the ridiculously small scale that they are constructed on.
Individual MEMS devices, by definition, are between one and one hundred microns in size, making each of these devices between one-one millionth and one-ten thousandths in size! This technology, which underlies most of the amazing technologies (personal computers, smartphones, etc.) was foreshadowed in Richard Feynman’s seminal work “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” This work, published in 1959, foreshadowed a high tech world where advanced technologies could be constructed atom by atom or molecule molecule. While MEMS themselves don’t attain this lofty status, they do share many aspects of the foundations of nanotechnology, where such manipulations happen routinely.
The worlds of microtechnology (where MEMS reside) and nanotechnology both seem like science fiction when taught to students on their own terms. Yet, they are all around us and underlie the plethora of technologies that have revolutionized the early years of the twenty-first century. By giving students insight into the mechanisms by which these miracles of technology that all too often get taken for granted work, students can morph into members of a technologically literate population who both appreciate and respect the power of the very technologies that they enjoy.