Winter 2008
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TCU Magazine "Academe"
Articles: From rock to Bach

No big deal

By Nancy Bartosek

Small thinkers. Engineering undergrads Matt Ruff (front) and Richard Wilks are helping Engineering Prof. Ed Kolesar develop a microscopic motor that will one day be attached to a lens in an artificial eye. Below are the engine and gears, magnified thousands of times. The large black lines are tiny wires that provide the electricity to the prototype.

Slice a hair into 100 widths.

Take one of those slices, and you have a micron -- about 15 atoms stacked. And that's the size of the motor Engineering Prof. Ed Kolesar built to power movement in an artificial lens that may one day be part of an artificial eye.

That microscopic machine can spin at more than 10,000 rpm.

Mind boggling?

Not to Kolesar, who has been working with MEMS, or microelectromechanical systems for more than 20 years now.

"We basically are just taking dimensions usually measured in feet and reducing them to microns," he said. "It's no new-fangled technology."

But TCU is the only university in Texas taking the silicon devices to such extremes. Kolesar and his choice undergraduate researchers design the machines in a TCU lab, then send them to a semiconductor plant to be manufactured.

The same techniques used to create computer chips are employed to build Kolesar's motors. Though the creation of a viable artificial eye is still years away, the "muscles" that will move the lens of that eye are already getting a workout in Kolesar's lab.