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June 23, 2010
Microhotplates Microhotplates crafted of silicon carbide by Boston Microsystems, each consisting of a central plate surrounded by curved tethers. The largest is less than 100 microns (millionths of a meter) across. These micro-hotplates--capable of reaching temperatures above 1100 degrees Celsius (2012 degrees Fahrenheit)--serve as a critical tool in developing new precision materials, some of which will enable the development of next-generation sensors. Already, the devices have led to new oxygen and engine emission sensors. Boston MicroSystems, Inc. crafted the hotplates from silicon carbide because it is a robust material that can tolerate extreme heat and reach peak temperature in less than two-thousandths of a second. The tiny hotplates reside on a microchip within a transparent, polycarbonate chamber that can endure near-vacuum pressures. Ports in the chamber's sides allow gases to pass through to feed experiments, while researchers observe experiments in progress through a microscope. The techniques necessary for crafting and optimizing these micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) were developed with support from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and SBIR programs at the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and NASA. To learn more about this research, see NSF press release 04-900, Searing Heat, Little Package. (Date of Image: 2004)