Microelectromechanical (MEM) buckling beam thermal actuators are disclosed wherein the buckling direction of a beam is constrained to a desired direction of actuation, which can be in-plane or out-of-plane with respect to a support substrate. The actuators comprise as-fabricated, linear beams of uniform cross section supported above the substrate by supports which rigidly attach a beam to the substrate. The beams can be heated by methods including the passage of an electrical current through them. The buckling direction of an initially straight beam upon heating and expansion is controlled by incorporating one or more directional constraints attached to the substrate and proximal to the mid-point of the beam. In the event that the beam initially buckles in an undesired direction, deformation of the beam induced by contact with a directional constraint generates an opposing force to re-direct the buckling beam into the desired direction. The displacement and force generated by the movement of the buckling beam can be harnessed to perform useful work, such as closing contacts in an electrical switch.
STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT
The United States Government has certain rights in this invention pursuant to Department of Energy Contract No. DE-AC04-94AL85000 with Sandia Corporation.