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ESE 2021 Jack Keil Wolf Lecture – “MEMS: the Transition from “Four-Letter-Word” to “Trendy””

November 16, 2021 at 3:00 PM - 4:15 PM

Thirty years ago, semiconductor manufacturers (wafer fabs) rolled their eyes and muttered under their breath when they heard the word MEMS.  Micro-Electromechanical Mechanical Systems are minute mechanical devices built on silicon integrated circuit wafers.  They are the microphones, gravity sensors, oscillators, motion sensors, electronic filters in your cell-phone – and more.  MEMS processes were “weird”.   They required unusual and immature special processing tools and etch chemicals.  MEMS wafers often broke inside traditional semiconductor processing tools, creating logistical nightmares for the wafer fabs.  Packaging was a terrifying ordeal, protecting the miniscule mechanical structures from damage.  Even as recently as 15 years ago, MEMS was considered a four letter word at the larger wafer fabs, or foundries.  Today, that has all changed.  Today, the largest foundries ALL manufacture MEMS devices and they scramble to be the supplier of the latest, newest MEMS invention.  Today, MEMS special processing tools are all high precision, high-throughput, state-of-the-art equipment.  Today, many options exist for packaging these bizarre, but powerful chips.  Today, everyone wants to manufacture MEMS chips.  Today, MEMS is “trendy”.

How did this happen?  How did MEMS transition from an ugly, shunned, four letter status to being fashionable?   My presentation will walk through this astonishing historical transformation, focusing on the revolutionary devices which are made possible by MEMS technology and how they have radically altered and augmented the way we interact with electronic systems.

Kurt Petersen

Co-Chair at the HardTech Group, Silicon Valley Band of Angels

Kurt Petersen received his BS degree cum laude in EE from UC Berkeley in 1970.  In 1975, he received a PhD in EE from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Dr. Petersen established a micromachining research group at IBM from 1975 to 1982, during which he wrote the review paper “Silicon as a Mechanical Material,” published in the IEEE Proceedings (May 1982).  This paper is the most frequently referenced work in the field of micromachining and micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS).

Since 1982, Dr. Petersen has co-founded six companies in MEMS technology, Transensory Devices Inc. in 1982, NovaSensor in 1985 (now owned by Amphenol), Cepheid in 1996 (acquired by Danaher in 2016), SiTime in 2004 (now listed as SITM on NASDAQ), Profusa in 2008 (still private), and Verreon in 2009 (acquired by Qualcomm).

In 2011, Dr. Petersen joined the Silicon Valley Band of Angels, where he now co-chairs the HardTech group.  The Band is an angel investment group which mentors and invests in early stage, high-tech, start-up companies.  Today, he spends most of his time helping and mentoring such companies.

Dr. Petersen has published over 100 papers, and has been granted over 35 patents in the field of MEMS.  He was awarded the prestigious IEEE Medal of Honor in 2019 as well as the IEEE Simon Ramo Medal in 2001 for his contributions to MEMS.  Dr. Petersen is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and is a Life Fellow of the IEEE in recognition of his contributions to “the commercialization of MEMS technology”.


November 16, 2021
3:00 PM - 4:15 PM


Electrical and Systems Engineering
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Glandt Forum, Singh Center for Nanotechnology
3205 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104 United States
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