The new graphene-based NEMS accelerometer on a coin. Photo: KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
The new graphene-based NEMS accelerometer on a coin. Photo: KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

In what could be a breakthrough for body sensor and navigation technologies, a team of scientists in Sweden and Germany has developed the smallest ever accelerometer for measuring acceleration, by taking advantage of the highly conductive nanomaterial graphene. The team includes researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and RWTH Aachen University and Research Institute AMO GmbH, Aachen, in Germany.

For decades, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have been the basis for new innovations in fields such as medical technology. Now these systems are starting to move to the next level – nano-electromechanical systems (NEMS). In the latest development, Xuge Fan, a researcher in the Department for Micro and Nanosystems at KTH, says that the unique material properties of graphene have allowed them to build ultra-small accelerometers.

“Based on the surveys and comparisons we have made, we can say that this is the smallest reported electromechanical accelerometer in the world,” Fan says. The researchers report their work in a paper in Nature Electronics.

Graphene is a very good conductor of electricity and also possesses extraordinary mechanical strength, making it one of the most promising materials for a breathtaking array of applications in NEMS.

“We can scale down components because of the material’s atomic-scale thickness, and it has great electrical and mechanical properties,” Fan says. “We created a piezoresistive NEMS accelerometer that is dramatically smaller than any MEMS accelerometers available today, but retains the sensitivity these systems require.”

The future for such small accelerometers is promising, says Fan, who compares advances in nanotechnology to the evolution of smaller and smaller computers.

“This could eventually benefit mobile phones for navigation, mobile games and pedometers, as well as monitoring systems for heart disease and motion-capture wearables that can monitor even the slightest movements of the human body,” he says.

Other potential uses for such NEMS transducers include as ultra-miniaturized NEMS sensors and actuators, including resonators, gyroscopes and microphones. In addition, these NEMS transducers can even be used as a system to characterize the mechanical and electromechanical properties of graphene, Fan says.

Max Lemme, professor at RWTH, is excited by these results. "Our collaboration with KTH over the years has already shown the potential of graphene membranes for pressure and Hall sensors and microphones," he says. "Now we have added accelerometers to the mix. This makes me hopeful to see the material on the market in some years. For this, we are working on industry-compatible manufacturing and integration techniques."

This story is adapted from material from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.