University of Utah mechanical engineering undergraduates won first place in the 2014 Sandia National Laboratory university alliance microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) design competition. The design team consisted of mechanical engineering student Bryan Tran and civil engineering student Jeff Thomas, led by faculty advisors Brian Baker and Ian Harvey. Sandia National Laboratory is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The MEMS university alliance design competition offers participating universities the opportunity to take part in a program geared around MEMS design, fabrication and testing.

The Utah team designed a MEMS micro-platform to fit in an area less than 2 mm x 2 mm that achieves movement with six degrees of freedom. This platform could be used for laser beam steering, optical micro-lens movement, micro-camera positioning, micro-robotic manipulation, directional microphones, antenna tuning, solar cell light capture angle optimization, and biological sample manipulation, among other potential applications.

This winning design is a combination of a platform, universal joints, supporting legs, displacement multipliers, and microactuators. The movement of each leg is controlled by six thermal linear actuators coupled to displacement multipliers that increase platform movement. The multipliers push on the legs, which, in turn, push or pull on the platform. By coordinating the operation of the thermal actuators, the legs of the device can be pushed forward or backward into positions that will raise, lower, rotate, tilt, or translate the platform.

In addition to their design work, the Utah team is currently creating teaching materials and demonstration microchips that will be used to teach scaling engineering at high schools and colleges around the country through a grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah is committed to providing students with broad-based, rigorous and progressive education. By combining state-of-the-art facilities with renowned faculty, the department provides an education that gives students the necessary skills to become the next generation of innovators.

Learn more about the Sandia National Laboratory University Alliance program