New Professor of Nanomechanics aims for ‘nanoscale floating’

News - 05 December 2018 - Communication

In the words of Professor Peter Steeneken, Head of the Dynamics of Micro and Nanosystems section at TU Delft, nanoengineering is required to bridge the gap between nanoscience and concrete nanomechanical applications. His inaugural address ‘Dynamics in Nanomechanics’ on Friday, 7 December will focus on ‘movement’. Examples include the movement of microscopic floating and rotating motors and switches, powered by electrostatic charges, which were recently produced at TU Delft. “I want to make these sorts of mini-robots a great deal smaller, quicker and more precise”. The inaugural address will be streamed live on Collegerama.

The best things often come in small packages. Making devices smaller reduces production costs, uses less energy and allows us to work more precisely. Modern telephones are therefore packed with microscopic moving devices such as clocks, microphones, filters, switches and sensors. Making these types of devices even smaller and thinner is therefore a real advantage, as is making them faster and more precise. However, doing so presents a major challenge.

New sensors and actuators

One way of reducing the size of the architecture is to use new materials, such as graphene: a membrane that is only 1 atom thick. Graphene is not only ultrathin, but is also very light and strong. These unique aspects make it possible to produce interesting new actuators and sensors. However, these architectures behave very differently at the nanoscale than at the microscale, making it difficult to measure and predict their behaviour. At the nanoscale, frictional and adhesive forces are also extremely strong; if two surfaces touch, it is almost impossible to separate them again.

Nanoscale floating

Steeneken believes that there is only one way of moving architectures frictionlessly at high speeds over long distances: floating at the nanoscale. “At the large scale, we have aircraft and maglev trains, but at the microscale, it’s already difficult to move and rotate floating objects. Over the past year, we’ve taken the first steps by making 100 micrometre-thick floating and rotating motors and switches that are powered by electrostatic charges”, explains Steeneken. “Understanding, quantifying and predicting the movement of floating microstructures is quite a challenge. However, if we’re able to restrain them, they offer us new possibilities for significantly improving the performance of nanomechanical systems.”

Floating microrobots

Steeneken argues that such small, fast-moving, floating architectures could serve as sensors, mirrors or clocks. There are also potential applications in micro-manufacturing. “The advantage of floating microrobots is that they can be very cheap and can all do their work at the same time. Like ants in an anthill, they can create architectures with a precision and energy efficiency that is impossible to replicate with large machines.”

Further information

Date: 7 December 2018. Time: 15:00. Location: Aula, TU Delft.
Inaugural address of Professor Peter Steeneken: ‘Dynamics in Nanomechanics’

The inaugural address will be streamed live on Collegerama

<link afdelingen pme-home people professors profdr-pg-peter-steeneken _blank>Contact Peter Steenken.
Roy Meijer (TU Delft Science Communicator Advisor), +31 (0)15-2781751,

Also read this background piece to Steeneken’s research: Hybrid micro/nano-architectures: the best of two worlds   

This news items was published earlier: New and faster method to determine material properties of graphene  

Related research at TU Delft (co-author Prof. Steeneken): Delft researchers serendipitously create new, energy-efficient mechanical pixels

Photo in header on top: the smallest TU Delft logo: 700nm cut into a graphene membrane