Exploration of new concepts for mass detection in electrostatically-actuated structures based on nonlinear phenomena

Mohammad I. Younis*, Fadi Alsaleem

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


This study presents an effort to explore the exploitation of dynamic instabilities and bifurcations in micro-electro-mechanical systems to realize novel methods and functionalities for mass sensing and detection. These instabilities are induced by exciting a microstructure with a nonlinear forcing composed of a dc parallel-plate electrostatic load and an ac harmonic load. The frequency of the ac load is tuned to be near the fundamental natural frequency of the structure (primary resonance) or its multiples (subharmonic resonance). For each excitation method, local bifurcations, such as saddle-node and pitchfork, and global bifurcations, such as the escape phenomenon, may occur. This work aims to explore the utilization of these bifurcations to design novel mass sensors and switches of improved characteristics. One explored concept of a device is a switch triggered by mass threshold. The basic idea of this device is based on the phenomenon of escape from a potential well. This device has the potential of serving as a smart switch that combines the functions of two devices: a sensitive gas/mass sensor and an electromechanical switch. The switch can send a strong electrical signal as a sign of mass detection, which can be used to actuate an alarming system or to activate a defensive or a security system. A second type of explored devices is a mass sensor of amplified response. The basic principle of this device is based on the jump phenomena encountered in pitchfork bifurcations during mass detection. This leads to an amplified response of the excited structure making the sensor more sensitive and its signal easier to be measured. As case studies, these device concepts are first demonstrated by simulations on clampedclamped and cantilever microbeams. Results are presented using long-time integration for the equations of motion of a reduced-order model. An experimental case study of a capacitive sensor is presented illustrating the proposed concepts. It is concluded that exciting a microstructure at twice its fundamental natural frequency produces the most promising results for mass sensing and detection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Computational and Nonlinear Dynamics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Dynamic pull-in
  • Electrostatic force
  • Escape phenomenon
  • MEMS
  • Mass and gas sensors
  • Switches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


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