Tribology Letters

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 67–74 | Cite as

In-situ Vapor-Phase Lubrication of MEMS

  • David B. Asay
  • Michael T. DuggerEmail author
  • Seong H. KimEmail author
Original Paper


In-situ vapor-phase lubrication of sidewall MicroElectroMechanical System (MEMS) devices is investigated with 1-pentanol vapor. The 1-pentanol vapor successfully maintains lubricating properties between silicon contacts of MEMS devices. This is attributed to the ability of alcohol to adsorb on the silicon surface and sustain a lubricating layer, which prevents wear of the MEMS surfaces and minimizes friction. In the presence of these vapors, MEMS devices with sliding contacts operated without failure for up to a factor of 1.7 × 104 longer than in dry N2 gas alone, representing a dramatic improvement in operating life. Adhesion and friction were also investigated as a function of alcohol vapor pressure. The adhesive force between microfabricated MEMS sidewall surfaces increases from ∼30 to ∼60 nN as the alcohol vapor pressure is increased from 0 to 20% of saturation, and then only slightly increases to ∼75 nN at 95% of saturation vapor pressure. This increase in force is well within the capabilities of even the lowest force on-chip actuators, such as electrostatic comb drives which can typically generate a few μN of force. The static friction force was found to be independent of alcohol vapor pressure within the uncertainties in the measurement.


MEMS Lubrication Vapor phase Alcohol 



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. CMMI-0625493) and by Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Materials Science and EngineeringSandia National LaboratoriesAlbuquerqueUSA

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