Department of Mechanical Engineering

Seminar Series - Dr. John D. Williams

"High Aspect Ratio Micro Systems Technologies (HARMST) and Work Toward a MEMS Oligo Synthesis Reactor"

Dr. John D. Williams

Asst. Professor
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of Alabama in Huntsville


Disruptive technologies are defined as those nontraditional advances that have potential to transform the future of a field. They are inherently high-risk approaches capable of solving both new and old problems using radically different techniques. The difficulties associated with these ventures however, is picking an application well suited for the approach that cannot be easily duplicated by more conventional means. For MEMS, one the most successful disruptive approaches has been the development of high aspect ratio fabrication devices using conventional UV lithography tools. Our research group has extensive experience developing high aspect ratio micro systems technologies (HARMST) using photoresist, electroplated metals, and glass. These efforts have resulted in fabrication processes and device applications with very distinct advantages. In this talk, we will discuss a range of technologies currently being developed for high current capacity electromagnetic micro relays, high-Q tunable inductors for modern communication systems, 3-D photonic crystals, and glass micro reactors. Specific emphasis will be placed on one application using photosensitive glass that has the potential to both improve efficiency and reduce cost for a highly desirable commercial market.

We have teamed with a local Alabama company that specializes in Oligo synthesis to develop a commercially viable microfabricated reactor for the production of small quantities of high purity protein precursors used by biologist to synthesize short chain DNA, complex transmembrane proteins, site specific proteins, and user generated proteins not otherwise found in nature. Chemical synthesis will be achieved inside an optically transparent glass micro-reactor. In addition to the individual reactors, an electronic drive controller and optical spectroscopy system capable of driving 16 individual reactions with simultaneous closed loop control will also be manufactured to evaluate the reaction and modify it in real time. Successful realization of this effort will result in a product roughly the size of an office phone that allows biologists to synthesize hundreds of different commercial grade laboratory tailored oligos in house and on demand.


Dr. Williams obtained his PhD. at Louisiana State University in 2004 where he developed novel engineering processes in SU-8 lithography and micro electromagnetic relays. Between 2004 and 2007 he led multiple science and technology initiatives for lithographically patterned high aspect ratio micro systems technologies (HARMST) at Sandia National Laboratories. In 2008, he joined the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department as an assistant professor and associate director of the Nano and Micro Devices Center (NMDC) at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). Today, Dr. Williams’ research efforts include RF MEMS, photonic crystals, artificial biomembranes, and photosensitive glass. Furthermore, his role as Associate Director of the NMDC has helped reinvigorate and grow micro- and nanoactivities across the UAH campus. He has taught seven established undergraduate and graduate EE classes at UAH, and developed three new ones. These efforts will have led to the production of 3 PhDs and 5 MS degrees by the summer of 2014.

Monday, March 31, 2014
2:30 PM
132 Fluor Daniel Building