Sunday, May 28, 2006

Is micro nano? A thousand times no

Note to headline writer at PC Magazine: While the components in a MEMS gyro are small, they are not in the nano range. MEMS, by definition, can be measured in microns (the acronym stands for microelectromechanical systems).

Here's one way of thinking about the size difference. Let's say my annual income represents one nanometer. A micron, then, would be the amount of money former Enron executive Kenneth Lay reaped from stock sales in 2001. Yes, the difference is that big.

Bigger bucks for better metaphors
Catchphrase Cop
Merkle and the case of the misleading metaphor


blaisemouttet said...


This is a very good point. MEMS and nanotech differ in many regards in addtion to size. While MEMS builds upon the top-down approach of semiconductor manufacture, nanotech exploits the newer and less well developed bottom-up fabrication principles such as self-assembly. Also, for all the press that nanotech gets, MEMS is currently present in many more commercial industries than nanotech.

Howard Lovy said...

Yeah, at one time I worked for a publication that lumped the two together. To some extent, nanotech companies can learn from their older MEMS siblings. They, too, were enabling technologies in search of applications and a place in an existing chain. They eventually found it in defense, transportation and robotics (UAVs, Segways, automotive air bags and the dearly departed Aibo). They found success where they were able to fill a need within an existing industry, process or product. So, it makes sense that they should make their way into cameraphones. As the phones become better cameras and are able to zoom in on the action a bit better, MEMS gyros are there to help Dad, sitting in the nosebleed seats, get a decent video of his son scoring a touchdown. Between MEMS gyros and MEMS microphones, it sounds like the cell phone will replace the automobile as the ultimate MEMS niche.

As for nanotech being purely "bottom up," well, that's not always the case. The new chips with features under 100 nanometers are being promoted by Intel and others as "nanotechnology," but they still employ your father's old lithography. Nanotech companies are only now beginning to impose themselves into the process, Nantero being among the most prominent. And these cosmetics companies that have anti-nano activists and nanotech scientists alike all worried, some of them are truly engineering new products from the "bottom up," but others are just pounding the old zinc oxide into nanoparticles and calling what they do "nanotechnology." But that's probably a story for another day ...

F. Actualizer said...

To go 3D, make the comparison an insect (cm) vs. an elephant (< 10 m). This is a factor of 1,000,000,000 in mass.