CU-Boulder Mechanical Engineering Team Builds Microfan Small As A Grain Of Sand

Published: Feb. 26, 2001

Faculty and student researchers in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder have built a microfan, as small as a grain of sand, that could one day be used to cool the transistors on a computer chip or perform other functions in micro machines.

Professor Victor Bright and graduate students Paul Kladitis and Ryan Linderman described the microfan at the 14th Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Conference on MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS), held last month in Interlaken, Switzerland. They are applying for a patent on the design through CU's University Technology Corp.

The microfan, built on a silicon chip base, consists of eight blades, each about a half-millimeter long, which are connected to a tiny motor with silicon strips that act as hinges. Kladitis used microdroplets of solder to position the blades of the fan, while Linderman worked on the 180 rpm motor that turns the blades. The fan is so small that an array of almost 300 such devices could be assembled in a square inch of space.

Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Air Force Research Laboratory, the work is part of a project to develop solder technology for use in assembling MEMS.

Professor Bright said he originally came up with the idea of a microfan as a way to pump or mix gases in micro-fluidic devices such as chemical and biological gas sensors. Other potential applications include integrating microfans into micro-cooling systems or micro-power generators.

For more information, contact Professor Victor Bright at (303) 735-1734 (, Paul Kladitis, (303) 735-1763, Ryan Linderman, (720) 352-1858, or Carol Rowe in the CU-Boulder Office of Engineering Communications, (303) 492-7426.