The world’s smallest micromembrane pump measures just 25 mm2. (Credit: Fraunhofer EMFT)

In the future, a smart phone with an inbuilt gas sensor could be used to warn of heavy exposure. To help the sensor respond quickly and provide accurate measurements, researchers have developed a powerful micro diaphragm pump for delivering ambient air to the sensor.

The piezoelectric effect, which converts an applied electrical field into mechanical strain, is used to generate pressure in the pump chamber. Alternating the voltage helps move the silicon membrane up or down, which in turn draws in ambient air through a valve and compresses it in the pump chamber before expelling it.

The smart pump, which measures just 25 mm2, would be able to deliver air specifically to the gas sensors, which would reduce the reaction time from several minutes to just two seconds. The micropump could be used as a medical patch to continuously deliver tiny amounts of hormone or pain killer, or as an implant to help regulate pressure within the eye in treating glaucoma.