Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Universal transduction scheme for nanomechanical systems based on dielectric forces


Any polarizable body placed in an inhomogeneous electric field experiences a dielectric force. This phenomenon is well known from the macroscopic world: a water jet is deflected when approached by a charged object. This fundamental mechanism is exploited in a variety of contexts—for example, trapping microscopic particles in an optical tweezer1, where the trapping force is controlled via the intensity of a laser beam, or dielectrophoresis2, where electric fields are used to manipulate particles in liquids. Here we extend the underlying concept to the rapidly evolving field of nanoelectromechanical systems3,4 (NEMS). A broad range of possible applications are anticipated for these systems5,6,7, but drive and detection schemes for nanomechanical motion still need to be optimized8,9. Our approach is based on the application of dielectric gradient forces for the controlled and local transduction of NEMS. Using a set of on-chip electrodes to create an electric field gradient, we polarize a dielectric resonator and subject it to an attractive force that can be modulated at high frequencies. This universal actuation scheme is efficient, broadband and scalable. It also separates the driving scheme from the driven mechanical element, allowing for arbitrary polarizable materials and thus potentially ultralow dissipation NEMS10. In addition, it enables simple voltage tuning of the mechanical resonance over a wide frequency range, because the dielectric force depends strongly on the resonator–electrode separation. We use the modulation of the resonance frequency to demonstrate parametric actuation11,12. Moreover, we reverse the actuation principle to realize dielectric detection, thus allowing universal transduction of NEMS. We expect this combination to be useful both in the study of fundamental principles and in applications such as signal processing and sensing.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Sample geometry and force acting on the nanomechanical resonator.
Figure 2: Response of the dielectrically driven nanomechanical resonator.
Figure 3: Tuning and parametric transduction of the nanoelectromechanical resonator.


  1. Ashkin, A. Optical trapping and manipulation of neutral particles using lasers. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 94, 4853–4860 (1997)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Jones, T. B. Electromechanics of Particles (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. Ekinci, K. L. & Roukes, M. L. Nanoelectromechanical systems. Rev. Sci. Instrum. 76, 061101 (2005)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Huang, X. M., Zorman, C. A., Mehregany, M. & Roukes, M. L. Nanoelectromechanical systems: Nanodevice motion at microwave frequencies. Nature 421, 496 (2003)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Li, M., Tang, H. X. & Roukes, M. L. Ultra-sensitive NEMS-based cantilevers for sensing, scanned probe and very high-frequency applications. Nature Nanotechnol. 2, 114–120 (2007)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Jensen, K., Kim, K. & Zettl, A. An atomic-resolution nanomechanical mass sensor. Nature Nanotechnol. 3, 533–537 (2008)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Rhoads, J. F., Shaw, S. W., Turner, K. L. & Baskaran, R. Tunable microelectromechanical filters that exploit parametric resonance. J. Vib. Acoust. 120, 423–430 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Ekinci, K. L. Electromechanical transducers at the nanoscale: actuation and sensing of motion in nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS). Small 1, 786–797 (2005)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Masmanidis, S. C. et al. Multifunctional nanomechanical systems via tunably coupled piezoelectric actuation. Science 317, 780–783 (2007)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Verbridge, S. S., Parpia, J. M., Reichenbach, R. B., Bellan, L. M. & Craighead, H. G. High quality factor resonance at room temperature with nanostrings under high tensile stress. J. Appl. Phys. 99, 124304 (2006)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Rugar, D. & Gruetter, P. Mechanical parametric amplification and thermomechanical noise squeezing. Phys. Rev. Lett. 67, 699–702 (1991)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Mahboob, I. & Yamaguchi, H. Bit storage and bit flip operations in an electromechanical oscillator. Nature Nanotechnol. 3, 275–279 (2008)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Knobel, R. G. & Cleland, A. N. Nanometre-scale displacement sensing using a single electron transistor. Nature 424, 291–293 (2003)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Bargatin, I., Kozinsky, I. & Roukes, M. L. Efficient electrothermal actuation of multiple modes of high-frequency nanoelectromechanical resonators. Appl. Phys. Lett. 90, 093116 (2007)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. Tang, H. X., Huang, X. M. H., Roukes, M. L., Bichler, M. & Wegscheider, W. Two-dimensional electron-gas actuation and transduction for GaAs nanoelectromechanical systems. Appl. Phys. Lett. 81, 3879–3881 (2002)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Sekaric, L., Carr, D. W., Evoy, S., Parpia, J. M. & Craighead, H. G. Nanomechanical resonant structures in silicon nitride: fabrication, operation and dissipation issues. Sens. Actuat. A 101, 215–219 (2002)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Sampathkumar, A., Murray, T. W. & Ekinci, K. L. Photothermal operation of high frequency nanoelectromechanical systems. Appl. Phys. Lett. 88, 223104 (2006)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. Li, M. et al. Harnessing optical forces in integrated photonic circuits. Nature 456, 480–484 (2008)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Azak, N. O. et al. Nanomechanical displacement detection using fiber-optic interferometry. Appl. Phys. Lett. 91, 093112 (2007)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. Gillespie, D. T. The mathematics of Brownian motion and Johnson noise. Am. J. Phys. 64, 225–240 (1996)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. Gad-el-Hak, M. The MEMS Handbook 15–157 (CRC Press, 2001)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  22. Zhang, W., Baskaran, R. & Turner, K. Tuning the dynamic behavior of parametric resonance in a micromechanical oscillator. Appl. Phys. Lett. 82, 130–132 (2003)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Nayfeh, A. H. & Mook, D. T. Nonlinear Oscillations Ch. 5 (Wiley, 1995)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  24. Lifshitz, R. & Cross, M. C. Response of parametrically driven nonlinear coupled oscillators with application to micromechanical and nanomechanical resonator arrays. Phys. Rev. B 67, 134302 (2003)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  25. LaHaye, M. D., Buu, O., Camarota, B. & Schwab, K. C. Approaching the quantum limit of a nanomechanical resonator. Science 304, 74–77 (2004)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Regal, C. A., Teufel, J. D. & Lehnert, K. W. Measuring nanomechanical motion with a microwave cavity interferometer. Nature Phys. 4, 555–560 (2008)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Li, M. et al. Bottom-up assembly of large-area nanowire resonator arrays. Nature Nanotechnol. 3, 88–92 (2008)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Spletzer, M., Raman, A., Wu, A. Q., Xu, X. & Reifenberger, R. Ultrasensitive mass sensing using mode localization in coupled microcantilevers. Appl. Phys. Lett. 88, 254102 (2006)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  29. Cleland, A. N. & Geller, M. R. Superconducting qubit storage and entanglement with nanomechanical resonators. Phys. Rev. Lett. 93, 070501 (2004)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. Brown, K. R. et al. Passive cooling of a micromechanical oscillator with a resonant electric circuit. Phys. Rev. Lett. 99, 137205 (2007)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


Financial support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft via project Ko 416/18, the German Excellence Initiative via the Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM) and LMUexcellent as well as LMUinnovativ is gratefully acknowledged.

Author Contributions The experiment was performed and analysed by Q.P.U.; the results were discussed and the manuscript was written by all authors.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jörg P. Kotthaus.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

[Competing interests: A patent based on these results has been filed by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität with Q.P.U. as inventor.]

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Data, Supplementary Figure S1 with Legend and Supplementary References. (PDF 111 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Unterreithmeier, Q., Weig, E. & Kotthaus, J. Universal transduction scheme for nanomechanical systems based on dielectric forces. Nature 458, 1001–1004 (2009).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing