Protective polymer coatings for MEMS

An Iowa State University professor’s National Science Foundation funded research on the microstructure of polymers could yield significant applications in the electronics industry.

Vladimir Tsukruk of ISU’s materials science and engineering department and a multidisciplinary research team have developed ultra-thin polymer coatings that provide improved protection of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) from damage caused by environmental contamination and repeated use.

Tsukruk’s method involves using a self-assembly electrostatic process to form specially tailored nano-composite coatings that contain flexible and hard layers.

These molecular thin films, which are less than 10 nanometers thick, have extremely low friction, low adhesion and a much longer life span than existing monolayered polymer interfaces.

When applied to movable parts in MEMS, which often range in the vicinity of 5 to 20 micrometers (or about the thickness of two strands of hair), the new coating provides 10 times more stability than conventional coatings.

Tsukruk also is investigating hyperbranched and dendrimer polymers, a new class of polymers whose unusual molecular architecture show promise as interface materials, he said.

Tsukruk also sees potential of other polymer applications in biomimetics, or biological thermal sensing, with the ultimate goal of designing ‘soft-matter’ thermal sensors that imitate those found in nature.