Recent discoveries of manufacturing processes that can create microscopic machinery—motors, sensors, and even tweezers no larger than the thickness of a human hair—have led to the rapid growth of a new National Science Foundation program in micro-mechanical research. Thanks largely to spin-off technology from the microscopically detailed etching of integrated circuits, breakthroughs in fabricating micron-sized machines have inspired a $7 million, multiyear National Science Foundation research effort aimed at expanding the field.

The agency, led by the electrical, communications, and systems engineering division, will spend more than $2 million this year as part of a series of three-year commitments to research in the young field of microelectrical/mechanical systems. The funding, which is likely to increase next year as researchers continue to make strides in miniaturization, follows the unprecedented development of working electric motors with dimensions measured in thousandths of an inch.

‘We think the field has substantial potential—perhaps even on...

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