Many commercial communications users rely on smartphones to make connections, but the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is looking at “smart” materials for electro-optical military applications. The smart material in question is vanadium dioxide (V02) and it is being teamed with microelectromechanical-systems (MEMS) device technology as a means of providing advanced optical solutions.
Working as part of a cooperative research and development agreement between the Air Force Research Laboratory Sensors Directorate and Michigan State University, the researchers developed MEMS mirror devices which can be used in a variety of applications, including optical phased-arrays, spectroscopy, optical switches, track positioning, microscopy, optical displays, and medical imaging.
Vanadium dioxide is attractive as a potential microactuator for various MEMS devices, supplying power to the devices. It is considered a smart material because it responds rapidly to a stimulus. In addition, it often provides a multifunction response, with many of its properties changing simultaneously in response to a stimulus. It can trigger a response with very little applied energy, compared to alternative MEMS microactuator approaches.
The cooperative agreement provides scientists from Michigan State University with access to Air Force facilities, personnel, and materials in order to create VO2 thin films and integrate them onto MEMS devices for testing. Air Force personnel participated in the device testing, data analysis, and new process design and optimization.
“Our collaboration with Michigan State University has been invaluable in advancing the science and technology of micro actuators and micro mirrors,” said Dr. John Ebel from AFRL’s Sensors Directorate. “Their expertise combined with AFRL’s unique fabrication capabilities and talents has greatly accelerated the pace of research for MEMS actuators and mirrors.”