Iron Man Dreaming of Biological Fabrication of Circuits

Our friends the diatoms may be able to help us make even smaller integrated circuits. Diatoms are unicellular algae; they form a unique shell, called a frustule. They work hard to make human life possible; they produce about a third of the world's oxygen.


(Diatoms are our microscopic friends)

Now, a group of scientists led by Michael Sussman, director of University of Wisconsin, Madison's Biotechnology Center, and oceanography professor Virginia Armbrust of the University of Washington, are seeing if they will help us make even smaller chips.

One feature that sets them apart from typical phytoplankton is their custom-built cell walls which they create from silicon dioxide, or silica. Sussman's interest lies in that diatoms are capable of creating lines of silica much smaller than present chip manufacturing processes can make out of silicon.

The particular diatom Sussman and Armbrust's group have been working with is known as Thalassiosira pseudonana. Armbrust previously led the effort to sequence T. pseudonana's genome in 2004. The group has identified 75 genes that are used in the silica bioprocess for the diatoms and they hope to use genetic manipulation to find out what they can do with the microscopic organism in the guise of a chip builder.

Fans of Iron Man comic may recall that the suit-tiles were created by a process of biological circuit fabrication:

Micro-Scale suit tiles fabricated by genetically engineered metal affinity bacteria which assemble themselves in specific orderly arrays, then expire, leaving behind various metallic deposits which form all the metal shapes and microscopic circuits.

Via Getting Smaller Computers With Our Friend, Algae: A group of scientists look at a natural means to keep up with Moore's Law. Special thanks to a very determined reader who resubmitted this article to make sure I got it - thanks! Great story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/8/2008)

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