Future Gadgets May Use Nanowires Grown from Tiny Tubes
Copper circuits grown from tiny protein tubes may revolutionize the manufacture of microchips at the heart of America's future smartphones and smart cars. That bioengineering breakthrough has now been patented by engineers at the University of Arizona.
The ability to mimic the biological assembly of growing organisms from the bottom up offers precise control at the tiniest scales. By contrast, traditional semiconductor manufacturing has just about reached its limits for making the ever-smaller microchips demanded by new generations of electronics not to mention future cyborgs .
"We would be happy to see people license this technology to develop microchip manufacturing processes or any other related processes," said Pierre Deymier, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Arizona.
Deymier and his colleagues used tiny microtubules that have an outer diameter of just 25 nanometers small enough for 320 to line up side-to-side within a red blood cell. They printed the building blocks for the tiny protein tubes at circuit points where they wanted nanowires , and then waited for the tubes to grow.
A carefully timed bath inside a copper salt solution ensured that copper only deposited on the inside of the microtubules. That creates tiny copper wires that are effectively insulated by a protein tube coating.
The bottom-up approach should save on manufacturing costs, according to Deymier. The naturally insulated wires also allow designers to run wires across one another not something that's possible with circuit traces in current chip-printing techniques.
Such nanowires might even help channel current from solar cells that imitate the photosynthesis process which plants use to convert sunlight into energy.
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