The materials issues facing the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) community can be understood best in terms of the historical context. The field began almost as an afterthought among those engaged in integrated circuit production. These researchers recognized early on that the same processes used in the production of circuits could be re-ordered to make very small mechanical devices. The huge investment made by the electronics community in silicon technologies — and the relative ease with which these techniques could be adapted to device production — made them an obvious resource for early MEMS designers. It is no accident that polycrystalline silicon is the most commonly used structural material.But with the continued expansion of MEMS devices into new areas of application, the limitations of silicon (Si) usefulness became clear. The need to combine electronics and MEMS on the same chip (iMEMS), improve the wear characteristics of moving parts, and achieve a greater mass of moving parts in MEMS inertial sensors have led researchers away from a ‘one-material-fits-all’ approach. Instead the search is on for materials that more directly serve specific ends. The need for biocompatibility in the emerging field of bio-MEMS has added urgency to the quest for new materials, since Si-based materials cannot meet every bio-MEMS need.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(02)00840-4