Making Music On A Microscopic Scale

The World's Tiniest Musical Instrument      29/09/10

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Researchers at the University Of Twente (Netherlands) have created a new instrument, the Micronium, that is microscopic.

It's so tiny, in fact, that it is strung with strings that are a fraction of the thickness of a human hair.

These miniscule devices can be built thanks to the ultra-clean conditions in a 'clean room', and the advanced etching techniques that are possible there.

The tiny musical instrument is made up of springs that are only a tenth of the thickness of a human hair, and vary in length from a half to a whole millimetre. A mass of a few dozen micrograms is hung from these springs. The mass is set in motion by so-called 'comb drives': miniature combs that fit together precisely and shift in relation to each other, so 'plucking' the springs and creating sounds.

The mass vibrates with a maximum deflection of just a few micrometres. This minimal movement can be accurately measured, and produces a tone. Each tone has its own mass spring system, and six tones fit on a microchip. By combining a number of chips, a wider range of tones can be achieved.

"The tuning process turned out to be the greatest challenge", says PhD student Johan Engelen. "We can learn a lot from this project for the construction of other moving structures. Above all, this is a great project for introducing students to micromechanics and clean room techniques."

The video captures an overview of the instrument and a performance of a composition created specifically for the microscopic instrument. The music starts at about 6 minutes in. Look closely, and you'll see the enlarged movement of the tiny strings. 


James Lewin
Twitter @podcasting_news


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