Handel by nanotube

If you want to know where the big news in fundamental electronics will be, I can tell you. Spintronics and nanotubes.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

If you want to know where the big news in fundamental electronics will be, I can tell you. Spintronics and nanotubes.

Spintronics, I'll get back to later. That's where electron spin (which is why materials are magnetic) is used instead of charge to store and work on data. Development is speeding up, and lots of people are publishing. Most interestingly, some basic techniques are turning up for adding spintronic capabiities to bog-standard silicon CMOS (you put a very thin gate layer of europium oxide into a silicon transistor and tunnel electrons through it: they come out naerly 100% spin aligned).

I don't think there's much doubt that it'll be very significant at some point: not soon, though. It still needs its bits to be frozen hundreds of degrees below, and that requirement excludes even the best ideas from the mass market (remember 'high temperature' superconductors?).

Nanotubes by comparison don't integrate well with silicon but do work happily at room temperature. And this, I think, gives them the best claim to be the Next Big Thing.

A nanotube is a tiny network of carbon atoms rolled up into tube form - and it may be as flexible and useful as its larger brethren. For example, a group of Californian researchers have built a nearly-complete radio from a single 600nm long nanotube - more a sort of nanobristle, really. One end is anchored in an electrode that connects to the outside world; the other sits in free air and holds an electrical charge.

Passing radio waves tweak that charge, and set the whole thing a-trembling. When the radio waves and the mechanical resonant frequency of the nanobristle coincide, lots of energy is coupled to the tube from the radio signal and it dances like a ruler twanged over the edge of a desk. This in turn helps modulate a field emission current that's passed through the thing, which you can shove into a more conventional amplifier and... well, listen to it.

The bright sparks who concocted this amazing device report that they managed to transmit music to it, and video it in an electron microscope as it did its twangsome thang. You can enjoy recordings of all of the above (but alas, not the actual paper they published on this feat) at their website.

But be warned: their choice of music is not quite itself cutting edge. Clapton, Beach Boys, Star Wars and Handel were their nano island choices...

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