Nanotechnologically self-repairing circuits

Tom James @ 11-09-2009

selfheal_x220Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a means by which nanotube-filled capsules could repair electronic circuits when they are damaged:

Capsules, filled with conductive nanotubes, that rip open under mechanical stress could be placed on circuit boards in failure-prone areas. When stress causes a crack in the circuit, some of the capsules would also rupture and release nanotubes to bridge the break.

“Many times when a device fails, it’s because a circuit or capacitor burns out,” says Bielawski. “This is critical in situations where you can’t repair it — in satellites or submarines.” To address the problem, engineers currently build redundancy into a system. Self-healing circuits could make devices for remote applications more lightweight, more efficient, and cheaper, says Bielawski.

Consumer electricals have become increasingly cheap and disposable over the past few years. If this technology is adopted widely and improved could it lead to electricals that continue to function well for many decades? It seems unlikely that companies would choose to lose built-in obsolesence as a marketing tool, but if technologies increase in durability and strictly hardware-based improvements tail off (i.e. it becomes more economical to achieve improvements in performance through software tweaks, instead of relying on Moore’s Law) could it be that we find ourselves with the same mobile-phone/$multi-purpose_personal_electronic_widget for many years, which continually repairs and rebuilds itself when damaged?

[from Technology Review][image from Technology Review]


Viruses for nanotech components

Tom James @ 02-06-2009

virusTurns out viruses are good for more than just killing cancer cells. Researchers at MIT have developed a method whereby viruses are coated with iron phosphate, then attached to carbon nanotubes, thus creating  the building-blocks of nanoscale electrical components:

This advanced ‘bio-industrial’ manufacturing process, which uses biological agents to assemble molecules, could help to evolve key energy material components (e.g. cathodes, anodes, membranes) used in batteries, fuel cells, solar cells and organic electronics (e.g. OLEDs).

It’s interesting to see how researchers are making use of the native biological territory instead of reinventing the wheel when it comes to nanotechnology – using viruses to make nanomaterials to make power cells.

[from Future Blogger][image from noii’s on flickr]


Computer memory to last a billion years

Tom James @ 21-05-2009

lifevsbitIn an attempt to address the problem of a digital dark age engineers at Berkeley have developed a technique called Nanoscale Reversible Mass Transport for Archival Memory that is intended to combine high bit-density and deep-time survival:

We have developed a new mechanism for digital memory storage with the potential to store data with both long lifetime and high density. Our memory device consists of a crystalline iron nanoparticle enclosed in a multiwalled carbon nanotube.  The nanotube can be reversibly moved through the nanotube by applying a low voltage, “writing” the device to a binary state represented by the position of the nanoparticle. The state of the device can then be subsequently read by a simple resistance measurement.

The abstract of the paper claims thermodynamic stability in excess of one billion years with data density of 1012 bits/in2.

[via Next Big Future][graph courtesy Zettl Research Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at Berkeley]


Flexible and transparent supercapacitors

Tom James @ 31-03-2009

flexibletranNews of carbon nanotube and indium nanowire-based supercapacitors that can be bent and twisted like a playing card:

It continues a line of prototype devices created at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering that can perform the electronic operations now usually handled by silicon chips using carbon nanotubes and metal nanowires set in indium oxide films, and can potentially do so at prices competitive with those of existing technologies.

Its creators believe the device points the way to further applications, such as flexible power supply components in “e-paper” displays and conformable products.

This sounds like the sort of development that could lead to something like The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.

[from Physorg][image from Physorg]


Smokin’ up the elevator

Tom James @ 23-01-2009

smoke_artSpace elevator prospects have improved with the development by Cambridge scientists of a method for creating longer, less brittle carbon nanotubes by combining multiple nanotube strands:

Currently, the Cambridge team can make about 1 gram of the new carbon material per day, which can stretch to 18 miles in length. Alan Windle, professor of materials science at Cambridge, says that industrial-level production would be required to manufacture NASA’s request for 144,000 miles of nanotube. Nevertheless, the web-like nanotube material is promising.

“The key thing is that the process essentially makes carbon into smoke, but because the smoke particles are long thin nanotubes, they entangle and hold hands,” Windle said. “We are actually making elastic smoke, which we can then wind up into a fiber.”

Also worth checking out some of the alternatives to traditional space elevators that aren’t so demanding of tensile strength, like Keith Lofstrom’s launch loop, an electromagnetically “inflated” orbital launch system. [thanks to Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers)]

It’ll be fun to see which of these designs actually gets off the ground: just as long as they don’t get off the ground then return unexpectedly.

[from Physorg][image from neilbetter on flickr]


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