Radio Nanotechnology Revisited

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Back in January, I wrote a bit about some advances in nanotechnology, specifically the debut of the world’s smallest radio, thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Almost a year later, nanotech has returned to the news and once more, radio is a keyword.

According to Radio News Online‘s Ed Ritchie, the “technology of the tiny” is about to “rock the radio industry.” In his new article, Ritchie speaks with Dr. Peter Burke, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California in Irvine, about the issues with bringing this technology to the public and the reasons why radio is the research focus at the moment. Burke’s team was the group in October of ’07 that unveiled the world’s first working radio system that could receive radio waves wirelessly and convert them to sound signals through a nano-sized detector.

Via Mr. Ritchie’s article on 10/22/08:

Moreover, the [original] study shattered doubts about the feasibility of manufacturing nano-scale radio component, ones that could lead to a “truly integrated nano-scale wireless communications system.”

In fact, just such a system was recently announced by John Rogers, a professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois.

Rogers developed a nanotube-transistor radio system based on a heterodyne receiver design consisting of four capacitively coupled stages: an active resonant antenna, two radio-frequency amplifiers and an audio amplifier. Headphones were plugged directly into the output of a nanotube transistor. The design incorporated seven nanotube transistors into each radio. During the demonstration, researchers tuned to WBAL(AM) at 1090 kHz in Baltimore and heard a traffic report.

Making the tiniest radio isn’t the ultimate goal for Rogers. Instead, the nanotube radio represents a milestone for proving that the technology is commercially competitive.

In benchmarking studies against silicon, measurements indicated significant advantages in comparably scaled devices. The ongoing research in nanotechnology has produced evidence that carbon nanotube transistors can be used for manufacturing low-power, high-speed transistors.

If you think radio is ubiquitous now, just wait until this tech really gets some legs. This level of miniaturization, especially once it can be done inexpensively, will allow radio to exist everywhere. Think for a moment about a radio that exists as one of the threads in a sweater or a jacket. There is no appreciable mass other than a jack to plug headphones into. That is only the beginning. Carbon tube technology will revolutionize anything with a transistor in much the same way we see social media effecting every level of the Internet. Make no mistake, radio is the starting point, but the ripple effect of this research will affect everything.

I cannot wait to see what will evolve from this. We truly are living in the future!

Image courtesy of stannate, used under its Creative Commons license

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