Columbia University

Technology Ventures

Fabrication of micro-gears via a self-assembly process

Technology #m10-011

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are an increasingly crucial and ubiquitous component of modern electronic devices. They enable motion sensitive feedback in our handheld devices, and trigger the airbags present in nearly all automobiles. However, the fabrication of the micron-sized components of these devices is complex and costly, and requires multiple processing steps including etching and patterning to create multilayered materials. This technology is a versatile method for creating micro-scale gear-like components for MEMS using the controlled buckling of thin-films on curved compliant substrates. The process does not require patterning, and is capable of achieving regular 3D and quasi 2D gear-like microstructures.

Mechanical self-assembly on curved substrates guides the formation of complex 3D microstructures that are not attainable through fabrication other methods

The use of mechanical self-assembly to create patterned structures has been limited to planar substrates or has required the use of masks and multilayer processing techniques. This method extends mechanical self-assembly to curved substrates, creating structures that are not achievable using other methods and using materials that are not compatible with other fabrication methods. Both positive and negative curvature substrates can be used to achieve quasi 2D and 3D gear-like micro-components. The number, width, and depth of teeth can be controlled through the geometry and properties of the film and substrate. A model has been established that predicts morphology of based on these parameters allowing for precise control of components.

A variety of gears have been realized through this technology including bevel and helical gears, which are particularly difficult to fabricate using conventional lithographic techniques.

Lead Inventor:

Xi Chen, Ph.D.


  • Production of micro-gears for use in MEMS devices
  • Production of mechanical components in implantable and other medical devices
  • Fabrication of tunable optical gratings
  • Research tool for studying the mechanical properties of thin films


  • Biocompatible and inert films may be used
  • Low cost and efficient
  • Can control the geometry by varying parameters of the film
  • Eliminates the need for lithographic processing
  • Eliminates the need for patterned masks
  • Enables microstructures not achievable though other fabrication methods
  • Enables the use of materials that are not compatible with other fabrication methods

Patent Information:

Patent Pending (WO/2011/050161)

Patent Pending (US 20120319329)

Tech Ventures Reference: IR M10-011

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