Sandia LabNews

Albuquerque's TVI and Texas Tech earn top honors in MEMS design contest

An exceedingly small monorail and a chain with links approximately 1/10 the diameter of a human hair were among the remarkable devices created by the imaginative yet detail-oriented winners of Sandia’s 2006 MEMS University Alliance (UA) Design Competition.

Texas Tech’s winning design team, directed by professor Tim Dallas and student Jay Friend, won the Characterization/Reliability/Material and Surface Science category. Their design consisted of a MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) monorail, mechanical characterization of bio-cells, and more.

“The Sandia Design Competition is the centerpiece of our MEMS curriculum. We believe the educational benefits are excellent,” said Dallas. He praised the Sandia-originated SUMMiT design process, said it allowed students to participate in interesting research, and hoped that “testing and characterization of the fabricated devices will lead to publishable results.”

Professor Matt Pleil and student Paul Tafoya from Albuquerque TVI — the only two-year school in the competition — won the Novel Design category with help from students Eric Steinmaus and Eddie Letellier. (TVI will soon be renamed Central New Mexico Community College.)

The group built what it believes is the world’s smallest chain (11 microns per link), complete with tensioner, as well as a microbelt able to transfer energy from one point to another. They built orthogonal gears necessary to transfer power from one plane to another (as in transferring power from transmission to wheels) and a trapped-oxide actuator that uses internal stresses to cause the structure to lift out-of-plane.

Said Pleil, “Not only did students learn details but also how important design is to the final fabrication of the product. They worked hours on their own time to fine-tune their work. They also had a lot of fun and turned into a tremendously cohesive team. We greatly appreciate the outstanding support we have received from Sandia.”

A model for other community colleges

The project has been a model for other community colleges, says Pleil, and has been presented at a local high school to stimulate interest in science. It’s also been presented at a number of technical meetings and conferences.

“The ingenious designs submitted by all the participants in this competition are evidence of our success,” says Sandia manager and contest lead Harold Stewart (1749).

TVI and Texas Tech team representatives were informed of their victory on April 18. They visited Sandia in mid-May to present their designs for review and to tour Sandia’s microsystem facilities. In addition, the two schools will receive organizational memberships to MANCEF (Micro and Nanotechnology Commercialization Education Foundation). The winning designs will be fabricated on Sandia’s SUMMiT V™ reticle set and Sandia-fabricated parts will be shared with all University Alliance members to use in their curricula regardless of participation in the 2006 contest.

Institutions must be members of Sandia’s MEMS University Alliance for their students to participate. Membership is available to any US institution of higher learning.

Members receive course materials structured to help start or further develop their own MEMS program. They also receive licenses for Sandia’s cutting-edge MEMS design software, MEMS parts, and other benefits. Twelve schools are members of the Alliance with a number of agreements pending.

The contest attempts to help attract, inspire, and train US students to become the engineers and scientists of the next generation of the MEMS workforce, according to literature published by the program. Cost-effective programs that build relationships with US students and professors help foster US leadership and competitiveness in a globalized world, the literature states.

This is the second year of the design competition. Greater detail can be found here.

For more information about the contest, contact Natasha Bridge at

For more information about becoming a member of the University Alliance, contact Kathryn Hanselmann at