A Clock The Size Of A Pollen Grain

BBC News Online / Sci-Tech

July 21, 1998

Scientists at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico
have constructed a clock the size of a grain of pollen. Our
science editor Dr David Whitehouse reports.

For years Sandia scientists have led the world in building
micromachines. Now they've constructed a clock with moving
parts the size of a pollen grain.

It is not a mechanical clock with gears and wheels. Rather,
it is a minute tuning fork that vibrates. It performs the
same job as quartz crystals which are used as timing devices
in all electronic components.

Working With Micromachines

The micromachines are etched into layers of polysilicon, the
same material used in the manufacture of computer chips.

This means the micromachines and integrated circuits can be
constructed on one chip.

Micromachine technology is already finding applications in
computer game joysticks, car stability systems and airbag
deployment sensors.

With a new timing device, applications for this technology
will continue to grow.

Observed through a high-powered microscope, the device looks
exactly like a tiny double-ended tuning fork. It consists of
two very fine strings or tines -- 10 would fit on a pinhead
-- anchored to a frame the size of a red blood cell.

Because it is so small it vibrates extremely fast and
generates frequencies of about 1 MHz. Although this is a
relatively low frequency for a computer clock, the
technology has great potential.

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