By Candace Stuart
Small Times Senior Writer
WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 4, 2001 -- For the MEMS industry, friction is a key problem.
It's one of the main impediments to successfully making some micromachined gears and moving parts. Even slight friction on the micron scale can force the parts to rub, wear and eventually lock up.
But on Monday, Shira Billet and Dora Sosnowik turned that sticky problem
|Shira Billet, left, and Dora Sosnowik developed|
a better way of reducing friction in MEMS devices.
The project earned them first place in the team
category at the Siemens Westinghouse Science
and Technology Competition.
The two teen-agers from Woodmere, N.Y., and Lawrence, N.Y., took first place in the team category of the Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition for developing a method to improve thin-film lubricants. The two found a way to measure the viscosity of thin-film polymers that serve as buffers between the moving parts in MEMS. Viscosity plays an important role in the effectiveness of any lubricant.
Ryan Patterson of Grand Junction, Colo., won first place and a $100,000 scholarship in the individual category for designing a glove that translates American Sign Language into text on a portable display unit. His device, which uses a combination of flex sensors, transmitters, microcontrollers and microprocessors, helps hearing-impaired people communicate without depending on translators. Although the parts are miniaturized, none in the present generation of the glove is a MEMS or microsystem.
More than 1,000 high school students competed in this year's event, which culminated Monday in Washington, D.C., with the naming of winners and five finalists in the two categories. The runners-up received scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 for projects as diverse as math theory and robotics.
Billet, 17, and Sosnowik, 16, decided to explore ways to measure viscosity in micron-scale devices last summer during a science program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook after learning that the existing methods were too bulky for such small technologies. MEMS devices measure in microns, which are a millionth of a meter. The project allowed them to pair their interests in chemistry with the materials science expertise at Stony Brook.
"We didn't even know about this competition," Billet said. They learned about it from a friend who had entered the previous year. "She told us how much fun she had."
The two used a bilayer of liquid polymers applied to a silicon wafer to measure the rate of dewetting, something akin to evaporation, during stress. They argued that polymers, which are long molecules, would be better than oils because they don't evaporate as easily and are less likely to degrade under stress. They used a low-viscosity film "spun cast" on the wafer to ensure it was a uniform molecule thick and topped that with a high viscosity "probe" film.
"Water and honey," is the way Sosnowik described the different consistencies. The two-layer approach let them study how the top layer lubricant behaved while the bottom layer bonded to the wafer. They found that viscosity increased with decreasing film thickness. They then went several steps further, using microscopy techniques to view the pocking and ripples occurring on the film surfaces.
"They addressed a very real problem," said head judge George Nelson, explaining why Billet and Sosnowik's project edged out what he called all very high quality experiments. "The kids did a superb job of building a viscometer (based on) real science, but they didn't stop there. They looked at the surface fractures and how the material breaks up."
Nelson, a former astronaut and who now works for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has a doctorate in astrophysics. The other eight judges represented various branches of science and engineering and all are associated with universities. The competition is designed to encourage high school students to explore the sciences and technology through independent research.
Billet and Sosnowik will use the scholarship for their college educations. Billet is considering Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sosnowik is looking into Princeton, Penn and Columbia University. Both are considering science majors, but have interests in other areas. The two are seniors at Stella K. Abraham School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park, N.Y.
They hope to return to their project this summer, making a MEMS device or acquiring one to perform real-world tests of their method. They believe the method also could be applied in prosthetics, where thin films could be used as lubricants on joints and other moving parts.
Patterson, who has applied for a patent on his glove, is now trying to incorporate the translation portion of the device onto the glove, and integrate voice-simulation technologies into the device. He is 18 and attends Central High School. He plans to study electrical engineering at Drexel, Stanford or California State universities.
Other runners-up for individuals include:
- Second place and a $50,000 prize: Alexandra Ovetsky of Philadelphia, for a mathematical concept she calls "surreal dimensions." The concept may lead to more accurate measurements of dynamic and irregular phenomena in nature such as weather patterns. The model also may find applications in nanotechnology.
- Third place and $40,000: Debra Hsiung of San Antonio, Texas, for tracing the relationship between the measles virus and Paget's Disease, a malady that weakens bones. She found that measles infection spurred cells to produce a protein that makes the body sensitive to a form of vitamin D, which in turn undermines bone structure.
- Fourth place and $30,000: Jacob Licht of West Hartford, Conn., for a new theory in mathematics that takes an opposite approach to the Ramsey Theory. That theory looks for segments of order and connections in what appears to be chaotic systems. Licht instead looks for segments of disorder in seemingly organized systems.
- Fifth place and $20,000: Peter Behroozi of Cedar Falls, Iowa, for progress on a mathematical problem, the Collatz Conjecture, a quandary in number theory.
- Sixth place and $10,000: Reed Shaffner of Mims, Fla., for culturing and analyzing cells involved in some neurological functions. His experimental data supports molecular models for Alzheimer's disease and may help in designing treatments.
The runners-up for teams include:
- Second place and a $50,000 prize: Twin sisters Hanna and Heather Craig of Anchorage, Alaska, for building a robotic vehicle for rescuing people who have fallen through ice into lakes. They designed and made their motorized Ice-Crawler using two silicon-reinforced rubber tracks that function in harsh cold weather and on icy terrains.
- Third place and $40,000: Gabriel Rosenhouse of Portland, Ore., and Mark Saiget of Camas, Wash., for a developing a process for heating homes using solar energy. The two teens designed a solar heating system that transforms a compound in the presence of sunshine. The energy later is released in the form of heat when the compound undergoes a catalysis process. They claim the system could heat homes, buildings and even shopping malls.
- Fourth place and $30,000: From Texas, Cynthia Chi of Sugarland, Charles Hallford of Brady and Rebecca Williams of Paris, for research into a branch of graph theory used in message coding and decoding.
- Fifth place and $20,000: Matt Mousseau and Elliott Prechter of Gainesville, Ga., for a program that produces a 3-D globe, complete with land topographies and water bodies. The simulation, "Reality 2," is based on a mathematical system called fractals to mimic natural patters. The team says the program could be used by the movie industry or for educational and training sessions.
- Sixth place and $10,000: Alexander Vinberg and Winston Wang of Manhasset, N.Y., for identifying which cells in blood play a role in the formation of platelets. The finding may help in the development of therapies to address internal bleeding.
Mariangela Lisanti won the top prize at last year's competition for a project on gold nanowires. She designed a $35 apparatus for measuring electron transport in metallic wires that allowed her to collect more data faster for results never before reported. Her project, titled "Conductance Quantization in Gold Nanocontacts," also placed first in the 2000 Intel Science Talent Search.
The Intel award is the oldest pre-college science competition in the nation, dating back to 1942. It was known as the Westinghouse award until Westinghouse was acquired by CBS in 1998. Siemens purchased Westinghouse's power plant division that same year. The Siemens Foundation launched the Siemens Westinghouse contest in 1999 in collaboration with the College Board and six universities.
The two competitions are among the most prestigious for high school students involved in science and engineering, and carry the largest purses, with each awarding $100,000 scholarships and other bonuses to top winners.
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Candace Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 734-528-6290.