When we talk about nanotechnology we are referring to the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic and molecular level for the purpose of creating something useful at the nano-dimensional level. To do this there are two approaches being considered and they are the top-down and the bottom-up. The former calls for the same methods used in MEMS but are made smaller in size usually with the help of advanced photolithography and etching techniques. The latter calls for deposition, growing and self-assembly technologies.
According to precision photolithography specialists, nanotechnology can potentially allow engineers to place each atom or molecule in the desired location and position in terms of assembly. There is also the possibility to make almost any structure or material using the limits of physics at the molecular and atomic level.
While MEMS and nanotechnology are known to be separate and distinct technologies, the distinction between one another is not really defined clearly so to speak. As a matter of fact, they rely on one another and are dependent on one another to work. A good example is the tunneling-tip microscope used to detect individual atoms and molecules at the nanometer level is known as a MEMS device. Also, an atomic force microscope that is used to manipulate the position and placement of individual atoms on the surface is also considered a MEMS device too.
Also, a lot of MEMS technologies are quite becoming dependent on nanotechnologies in order to create new product. For instance, the crash airbag accelerometer created using MEMS tech can have their long-term reliability lessened due to stiction effects between the proof mass and the substrate. Nanotechnology made Self-Assembly Monolayers coatings are utilized to treat the surfaces of moving MEMS elements in order to prevent stiction effects from hampering the quality of the product over the long term.
Is nanotechnology and MEMS one and the same? There is definitely a synergy between the two technologies but the most important benefits provided by these technologies overshadow any negative (if any) impact one may have on the other. The fact that using the two allows us to create new materials at miniature dimensional scales, frees us from the limits of space and perhaps even time itself.