From robotics to micro-technologies, an interview with Inês Garcia

October 26, 2021

Inês Garcia is a MOEMS (Micro-Optical-Electro-Mechanical Systems) Research Engineer in the Integrated Micro and Nanotechnologies Research Group at International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL), Braga. Her research is focused on the design, fabrication, and characterization of MOEMS devices.

Inês, with a strong background in Automation, Control and Robotics, and Microtechnologies, has a Master’s degree (MSc) in Industrial Electronics and Computers Engineering from the University of Minho, Guimarães. During the master’s degree, she joined the Microfabrication and Exploratory Nanotechnology group at INL, where she developed her master thesis on “High Precision MEMS Accelerometers for Microsatellites”.

What got you interested in the field of Micro-technologies?

Since I was a young girl, around 10/12 years old, I have always found the electronics and robotics field super interesting. The ability to give life and intelligence to an inanimate system has always fascinated me. I started early to participate in national and international robotics competitions (Festival Nacional de Robótica and Robocup). So, when I had the chance to choose my vocation, I decided to attend the integrated master in Industrial Electronics and Computers Engineering at the University of Minho, Portugal. 

During my masters, I had the opportunity to choose two specialisations, Robotics (of course), and I decided to try the Micro and Nano Technologies field. This second specialisation, which I always thought would be just a passing one, showed me a whole other world of how sensors and actuators that I already used daily in my projects really worked and how they were designed and manufactured.  

The exchange of different areas, from electronics, physics, chemistry and even design, caught me. In the end, I decided to change the course of my career from robotics to micro-technologies. 

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working in the MEMS field. MEMS means Micro-Electro-Mechanical-Systems, so, as the name indicates, I develop super small systems that combine the electrical and the mechanical domains. These systems can transform a mechanical property, for example, a displacement of a specific structure, into an electrical signal, or the other way around, transform an electrical signal into a mechanical property.  

I have been working on several projects and developing different types of MEMS, from MEMS accelerometers (that can measure the acceleration applied to the device) for space-grade missions to MEMS mirrors for laser steering (that through an electrical signal can change the orientation of a laser beam). 

These devices can have many applications, from autonomous driving to the space field, among others. 

One of the things I like the most about my work is that I currently develop all the steps that a MEMS device imperatively goes through. It’s me who studies them and scales them analytically, moving on to the design and layout phase. After having my device ready, I go to the micro-fabrication process and finally to the experimental characterisation to validate that my sensor works as expected analytically. So, I end up not being tied to a desk. Some days I’m at my desk, others in the lab or in the cleanroom. 

What is your long-term research goal?

This is a big question… I love what I do, so the first thing that comes to my mind is to continue working and exploring the MEMS field. Possibly, since I am also fascinated by the world of robotics, it would be fun to work one day on a project that would combine these two significant areas, robotics and micro-technologies. 

How would you explain the importance of your research to a non-scientific person?

Micro-Electro-Mechanical-Systems (MEMS) is a process to create tiny devices that combine mechanical and electrical components to transform a mechanical phenomenon into an electrical signal or vice versa. So, these systems can sense, actuate and even control on the micro-scale and generate effects on the macro scale. Given the dimensions and properties of these devices, these can be found in systems across several fields.

For example, MEMS devices have been included in airbags systems or even in blood pressure sensors. MEMS can be considered one of the most promising technologies of our century and can transform completely products that we use daily, dramatically affecting how we live.