Less than two weeks after a team of scientists created a nanoscale radio component, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have gone one better -- announcing the creation of the world's first complete nanoradio.
The breakthrough nanoradio consists of a single carbon-nanotube molecule that serves simultaneously as all the essential components of a radio -- antenna, tunable band-pass filter, amplifier and demodulator. Physicist Alex Zettl led the development team, and graduate student Kenneth Jensen built the radio.
"I'm totally amazed that it works so well," says Zettl. "Making individual components are good breakthroughs, but the holy grail was putting it all together. So we're ecstatic that we were able to achieve that full integration."
The radio opens the possibility of creating radio-controlled interfaces on the subcellular scale, which may have applications in the areas of medical and sensor technology.
Nanoelectronic systems are considered crucial to the continued miniaturization of electronic devices, and it's becoming a hot research and investment arena. Two weeks ago, a team at the University of California at Irvine announced the development of a nanoscale demodulator, an essential component of a radio.
The number of consumer products using nanotechnology -- from the iPhone to home pregnancy testing kits -- has soared from 212 to well over 500, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies' online inventory of manufacturer-identified nanotech goods in March 2006.
The nanoradio is less than one micron long and only 10 nanometers wide -- or one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair -- making it the smallest radio ever created.
The researchers' paper was published at the American Chemical Society's Nano Letters website.
The first transmission received by the nanoradio was an FM broadcast of Eric Clapton's "Layla." (The lab has posted video of that moment.) The Clapton classic was quickly followed by the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" and Handel's Largo from the opera Xerxes -- the first piece of music broadcast by radio, on Dec. 24, 1906.
The nanoradio's amplifier operates on the same principles as vacuum-tube radios from the 1940s and early '50s, says Zettl.
"We've come full circle. We're using the old vacuum-tube principle of having electrons jump off the tip of the nanotube onto another electrode, rather than the conventional solid-state transistor principle," says Zettl.
The electronic properties of this electron-emitting nanotube function as the radio's demodulator -- making a complete radio possible within a single molecule.
The audio quality "can be very good," says Zettl, but if you listen closely, some unique effects of the radio's tiny size can be heard: an old-fashioned "scratchiness" that occurs because the device is working in the quantum regime.
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