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A single device that could serve as both sensor and trigger would be cheaper to fabricate than a system that requires several different parts. Such a MEMS device might also use less power, and be less susceptible to shock, even as the mechanism’s settings could be adjusted to cover a wide — or narrow — range of acceptable motion. The technology could be used to protect personal electronics such as cell phones, preventing damage when they are dropped, Younis said. Or it could help govern major systems such as missile defense to prevent accidental deployment.

Younis is one of three Binghamton University faculty members, with Ronald Miles and James Pitarresi, who received a $280,000, three-year National Science Foundation grant for their work. General Electric, along with Binghamton’s Integrated Electronics Engineering Center, awarded him another $50,000.

Miles has worked closely with Younis since Younis came to Binghamton several years ago. Younis’ grasp of theoretical mathematics and practical knowledge of dynamics offer a new perspective on the field, Miles said.

“He’s really working hard to take that stuff and figure out how to work that into practical devices,” Miles said. “He’s able to have a very deep understanding of mechanics. That combination is something that not everybody has.”

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The NSF grant funds Younis’ work in a lab testing the thresholds of MEMS. In one experiment, he mounted a chip on a shaker that in turn was connected to a lamp. When the shaker caused the chip’s vibrations to accelerate past a certain threshold, the lamp lit. A computer connected to the system measured the signals.

For his next project, Younis seeks to tap chemistry and biology to use MEMS to build a detection system for dangerous materials such as TNT vapor and anthrax, again working in conjunction with Binghamton researchers. Younis and his colleagues propose to explore the feasibility of including a sponge-like substance on a chip that would trigger a response when certain particles are captured in the sponge’s cavities. The MEMS would react to the chemicals caught in the spores much like other systems would react to a car crash — it would trigger the mechanism to respond, in this case as part of a warning system.

The project involves not only creating a trigger mechanism, but also crafting a layer sensitive to biological molecules, as noted by project participant Omowunmi Sadik, director of the Center for Advanced Sensor Research and Environmental Systems at Binghamton.

It’s work that Binghamton is uniquely positioned to support, Younis said, through the Small Scale Systems Integration and Packaging Center devoted to microelectronics. “I’m working on very small devices and structures,” he said, “and the University has a unique center with sophisticated equipment geared for those tiny devices.”

— Anne Miller



Mohammad Younis received his first patent last year for a MEMS device that would detect acceleration and mechanical shock.

The device, he said, would be able to recognize when something crashed with a high level of force and then perform a desirable task. Applications might range from protecting the hard disk of a laptop computer to deploying a side-impact air bag.

“This invention represents a revolutionary concept that provides a potentially low-cost, reliable and manufacturable solution for electronic shock sensors, which could be embedded in packages and products to detect abuse, and possibly protect sensitive components from damage,” said Steven M. Hoffberg, the lawyer who worked on Younis’ patent application and a partner with the firm Milde & Hoffberg of White Plains, N.Y.

Younis is working on other inventions as well.

He has another patent pending on a similar device that would detect a lower level of acceleration. That innovation could prove useful in gas drilling, navigation systems and even early earthquake detection.

He’s also working with Binghamton chemistry Professor Omowunmi Sadik on a “smart” sensor that can perform an action. The idea is to develop a two-in-one device that would be able to detect a small mass — such as a biological or chemical gas — and then trigger an alarm or perform some other action.

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