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Frequency Stabilization in Non-linear MEMS and NEMS Oscillators (ANL-IN-11-087)

A cost-effective approach to stable oscillators
SEM image of one resonator used in the research (center) and finite element simulations of the dynamic deformation characteristi

The Invention 

Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have devised a method to create micro- and nanoscale mechanical oscillators with excellent frequency stability. Mechanical oscillators are an important component in electronic devices and they represent a multi-billion dollar industry. As electronics become increasingly miniaturized, oscillators must become smaller as well and this makes them more sensitive to environmental variations. 

Most oscillators have used a quartz crystal as the resonating element, but increasingly, micromechanical resonators are replacing crystals because of their small size, simpler fabrication, and reduced cost. However, as these resonators are made smaller, they become less stable and more sensitive to environmental changes. Argonne has developed a method to make the micro/nano oscillators ultra-stable by coupling two vibrational modes through an internal resonance. This coupling stabilizes the oscillation frequency of nonlinear self-sustaining micromechanical resonators. The energy exchange of the two coupled modes is such that the resonance of one mode absorbs the amplitude and frequency fluctuations of the other, acting as a stabilizing mechanical negative feedback loop. The team’s findings provide a new strategy for engineering low-frequency noise oscillators, capitalizing on the intrinsic nonlinear phenomena of micromechanical resonators. 

Benefits

  • Engineered at the micro- and nanoscale 
  • Ease in fabrication 
  • Reduced cost 
  • Excellent frequency stability 
  • Provides a strategy for further optimizing and engineering micro- and nanoscale devices 

Applications and Industries 

  • Timing references: GPS, synchronization, and frequency references 
  • Nano- and micromechanical oscillators 
  • Frequency-shift-based detectors 
  • Mechanical energy storage