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MEMS at Work: Tiny Switches Could Support Next-Generation Wireless Networks

March 17, 2014

Scientists working in GE labs have developed tiny electrical switches thinner than a human hair that can transmit kilowatts of power. They are called micro-electro-mechanical systems, or MEMS.

The technology’s DNA is built around industrial applications, and MEMS could help reduce waste heat and power consumption in medical devices, aviation systems and other GE products.

But the researchers are also working on miniaturized applications for smartphones and tablets using the next-generation LTE-Advanced, or “True 4G,” wireless standard.

The new standard could allow users to receive data as fast a 3 gigabits per second, 10 times faster than existing 4G networks. MEMS could help “True 4G” devices manage the torrents of data, boost signal quality, and extend battery life. They could also support wireless infrastructure. GE is planning to license the switches to the electronics market.


The latest generation of MEMS the team is working on can open and close circuits with just the electrostatic force, the same stuff that makes your hair stand on end. They can flip the switches thousands of times per second.

Chris Keimel, process development engineer at GE Global Research, says that the team’s “cross-disciplinary expertise in materials science, device design, fabrication, packaging, electronics and system integration” allowed them to solve “the fundamental challenges of switch miniaturization.”

Says Keimel: “We can drive down the size, weight, power consumption, and cost of our systems while improving overall performance.”

GE Global Research launched yesterday a new website where you can find the latest news about research at GE and the people who push the limits of science.


A die containing 400 ohmic MEMS switches, as viewed under a microscope, atop a U.S. dime.  This device, made with GE’s metal MEMS process, is capable of handling power greater than 1kW in this tiny form. For mobile applications, the technology can be scaled down and miniaturized.