Richard S. Muller: MEMS pioneer

Berkeley Engineering 150The 1970s introduced the Voyager Program, jumbo jets and MRI machines. But during a time of large-sized technological achievements, Richard S. Muller was concentrating on the small.

When he first joined Berkeley’s electrical engineering and computer sciences (EECS) department as a professor in 1962, Muller focused his research on integrated circuits, but by the late 1970s, his interests shifted to nonelectrical micro-devices. The idea was to build chip-scale engineering systems — which later became known as MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems).

In the early 1980s, Muller and EECS graduate student Roger Howe achieved a breakthrough that would enable the popular use of MEMS. They built mechanical elements compatibly with integrated circuits on a single chip, using polycrystalline silicon as a structural material. Today, this is known as surface micromachining and is used to create MEMS for a variety of applications, including automobile sensors, smartphones, video game controllers, as well as gas and chemical sensors.

On the heels of this breakthrough, Muller and his EECS colleague Richard White founded the Berkeley Sensor & Actuator Center (BSAC) in 1986. This NSF, Industry and University Cooperative Research Center brings together a wide-range of scientists, working side-by-side with students, to develop materials and processes for MEMS research.

For his accomplishments, Muller has received numerous honors. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Life fellow of the IEEE. He received the IEEE Cledo Brunetti Award in 1998 and an IEEE Millennium Medal in 2000. He is also the author or co-author of more than 300 research papers and technical presentations, has 19 issued patents and is the founder of the IEEE/ASME Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems (IEEE/ASME JMEMS).

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