AirplaneA team of researchers has created a new material that could be used in microscopic sensors, also known as microelectromechanical systems [MEMS], for devices that are part of the Internet of Things.

The technological future of everything from cars and jet engines to oil rigs, along with the gadgets, appliances, and public utilities comprising the Internet of Things will depend on these kinds of microscopic sensors. These sensors are mostly made of the material silicon, however, which has its limits.

“For a number of years we’ve been trying to make MEMS out of more complex materials” that are more resistant to damage and better at conducting heat and electricity, says materials scientist and mechanical engineer Kevin J. Hemker of Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering.

Most MEMS devices have internal structures that are smaller than the width of strand of human hair and are shaped out of silicon. These devices work well in average temperatures, but even modest amounts of heat—a couple hundred degrees—causes them to lose their strength and their ability to conduct electronic signals. Silicon is also very brittle and prone to break.