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From security devices to minute pacemakers that could last decades, there's a sea change under way in machine technology, and New Mexico leaders are working to move the state to the center of this new universe.
Sometimes big things come in microscopic packages.
In New Mexico, devices smaller than a human hair could be the answer to the state's dream of becoming the next Silicon Valley, or what many are calling Microsystems Mesa.
Microsystems are tiny machines, optics and computer chips that can think, sense, communicate and interact with their environments. And many think they are poised to become the next biggest technology since the semiconductor. New Mexico has some of the best facilities in the world for developing the technology, which could draw new business and create higher paying jobs and a stronger economy.
"We're in a unique position right now," said Steve Walsh, director of the University of New Mexico's Technological Entrepreneurship Program and an internationally known microsystems expert. "Before the whole semiconductor industry developed in California, they had the same economic problems we have. This is a new, disruptive technology, just like the semiconductor.
"If we go after an established, known marketplace to try to develop our economy, we will lose. On the other hand, we have the talent and support here to develop a unique workforce and structure in microsystems that can make us a leading center in the world. That can create increased opportunities and increased wealth."
Microsystems technology has already become an integral part of the computer-printer and automobile air-bag markets. In printers, microsystems are used as part of the print head to move ink into smaller areas, giving printed documents better resolution. In air bags, the devices are used to sense unusual motion associated with impact and then tell the bag when to deploy.
More companies are looking into developing products with microsystems components, and some experts have estimated the market will grow to about $100 billion a year in the next few years.
"Microsystems are something that are really going to profoundly change the world in the next 30 …