In-situ Vapor-Phase Lubrication of MEMS

David B. Asay, Michael T. Dugger, Seong H. Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


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 × 10 4 longer than in dry N 2 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-74
Number of pages8
JournalTribology Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films


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