Powerful machines are coming in small packages


In his lab, Paul is developing methods for mass-producing arrays of these microchannels to perform various fluidic operations such as heat exchange, mixing, reaction and separation. Combining these operations can require integrating the feature sizes across seven or eight orders of magnitude. (By comparison, assembling a jet airplane using centimeter-sized rivets involves three orders of magnitude.)

Some of the technologies Paul is working on include micromachined gas-liquid contactor membranes for portable heat pumps, high-temperature microchannel arrays for increasing the efficiency of fuel reforming, and microfluidic integration for improving the shelf-life of tissue-based sensors.

"We're trying to take large amounts of fluids down through microchannels and then back out to affect the macroscale environment," Paul said. "These technologies are expected to revolutionize the way we process mass and energy."

TeGrotenhuis, Paul, and their colleagues call their field "MECS," for "Microtechnology-based Energy and Chemical Systems." They have taken their cue from the technology known as "MEMS" (Microelectromechanical Systems), which involves the flow of electricity rather than fluids through micromechanical structures.

The carbon-based arrays of MEMs microbatteries made by Marc Madou of the University of California, Irvine, and his colleagues have thousands of anodes and cathodes very close together. Thus, the ions don't have to travel as far as they do in standard batteries.

"It's like a traditional battery concept but multiplexed," said Madou, who calls each battery element a "baxel" (a riff on "pixels," also arranged in a matrix).

These devices could have applications for "all types of tiny electronic gadgets, from hearing aids, to implants, to cell phones. These arrays of batteries are much smaller and would last longer than conventional batteries," Madou said.

Taking a different approach to

Contact: Monica Amarelo
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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