New RF MEMS metal-contact switches developed at the University of California, San Diego could make their way into MRIs and other medical equipment, satellites, and electronic instrumentation such as spectrum analyzers and signal sources. This new RF MEMS technology was recently featured and won the top prize at UCSD's Research Expo 2011. This brief video outlines the basics of the new technology.
These RF MEMS switches route electrical signals using electrostatic fields. They are smaller, lighter and more reliable than the current technology known as "conventional electromagnetic relays"; this traditional technology routes electrical signals using current pulses and magnetic fields.
Because satellite systems can be very expensive to put into space, the weight and space savings the new switches provide could lead to large cost savings, explained Chirag Patel, the graduate student that is leading this project. Patel works in the laboratory of Professor Gabriel Rebeiz at UCSD.
The new switches also consume less power than conventional electromagnetic relays and could be used in demanding RF environments such as switching networks for automated test equipment, low-power base stations, and even cell phones of the future.
Patel, Rebeiz and their collaborators plan to implement the switch in different high frequency circuit configurations. Other students in the Rebeiz lab are developing different types of RF MEMS switches and tunable circuits.
At UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering, Rebeiz leads the RF MEMS and antennas group for reconfigurable radio applications, and co-leads the microwave, millimeter-wave and THz integrated circuits group for wireless communications and sensors.
At the Research Expo 2011, Patel received some unexpected feedback on his work. During the final round of judging, a faculty judge from the bioengineering department asked Patel what would happen if he put his switch in water. "I thought about it, and I answered the question; but then I asked him why would you want to do that, and he said, 'Well, that would be really useful for us in bioengineering,'" explained Patel, who was surprised that bioengineers would be interested in his work.
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