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This is Top Level Stuff

February 22, 2008

When you first arrive at the top level of the Tower of Ten, you see a cute blue car.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the driver-side airbag is deployed (on the right side because it’s a British car).  Have you ever wondered what triggers an airbag?  How does the car know when it’s probably in an accident?

The answer is that the car has an accelerometer – a device which senses changes in the car’s speed.  If the speed changes too fast – wooompf!  The airbag deploys.  The accelerometer is typically on a chip that’s about 1 centimetre (10 mm) across.  There’s a model of an accelerometer module near the car model (pictured above).

Modern accelerometers often use tiny “Microelectromechanical Systems” (MEMS) like the one pictured above, which is about 0.1 millimetres across.  A full explanation of how it works is given on the sign beside the exhibit in the Tower of Ten.  (Surely you didn’t think I was just going to reveal everything here!)

The final exhibit is a model of the silicon unit cell.  This pattern of silicon atoms is repeated throughout pure crystals of silicon, which are used in making everything from transistors to solar cells to MEMS.  This concludes my four-part tour of the Tower of Ten.  Click Here to visit the Nanotechnology sim now.

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