Researcher Holger Conrad of the Fraunhofer IPMS in Dresden took first place in the 2017 VIP/VIP+ Validation Prize 2017 awarded by the BMBF for his research results in the "Nano e-drive" project. The award was presented by Parliamentary State Secretary Stefan Müller in Berlin on February 1, 2017 within the framework of the Innovation Conference on the "Validation of the Social and Technological Potential of Scientific Research" (VIP/VIP+).
Launched in 2012 in close collaboration between the Fraunhofer IPMS and the BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg, the "Nano e-drive" project was carried out by the Fraunhofer MESYS (Mesoscopic Actuators and Systems) Research Group. Under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Harald Schenk, Institute Director of Fraunhofer IPMS and Professor of Micro- and Nanosystems at BTU, a total of eight scientists at locations in Dresden and Cottbus are working on new electrostatic microactuators - so-called nanoscopic electrostatic drives (NED).
Microactuators are found in a large number of applications and systems such as the smartphone, wearables, cars, implantable insulin pumps and projectors. However, currently established drive mechanisms repeatedly reach their physical or technical limits.
The new approach provides the possibility to bypass the pull-in effect of conventional electrostatic actuators or to move them into an area which is no longer relevant for actuation. The quasi-static deflections of such actuators can therefore be significantly greater than electrode spacing currently permits. Holger Conrad explains: "With the new principle, highly integrated and miniaturized actuators can be produced with semiconductors-compatible manufacturing technologies. We are thus able to manufacture electrostatic actuators with extremely small electrode distances, which are far superior to competing drive mechanisms." The novel actuators are impressive, with a low electrical drive voltage, little energy consumption and short reaction times. In addition, they are CMOS- and RoHS-compatible which, in combination with the easy integration into standard silicon processes, enables cost-effective volume production providing a real alternative to piezo-electric actuators for the first time.
Within the scope of BMBF funding, scientists were able to develop the complete manufacturing chain and process technology for the new actuator principle. The theory of the actuators was validated as highly successful. Results were transferred into a first demonstrator and first sample applications to prove the technical feasibility. Application areas are extremely diverse. The use of the new actuators in micropumps, microvalves and loudspeakers, as well as zoom and image stabilization systems for smartphones is currently being investigated.
The new actuator class developed by MESYS has been patented and was introduced at the end of 2015 in renowned "Nature" magazine. Link: http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10078
The "Nano e-drive" project was funded by the BMBF in the period from 1.9.2012 to 31.12.2015 (promotion code: 03V0297).