Revisiting The World’s Smallest Radio



In January of last year when this blog was just starting off, I wrote about an amazing innovation in the world of nanotechnology. Now, a little over a year later, I would like to revisit that amazingly tiny invention.

I guess it was my recent interview with the World’s Youngest DJ that got me thinking about it again, so I started Googling around to see what new news might be out on the subject. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a five page piece about it in the curent Scientific American.

Ed Regis brings us closer to the developers of this functional, virus-sized radio and holds back the curtain on how it was developed and why it is such an exquisitely important breakthrough:

Who, then, would have expected that one of the first truly functional nanoscale devices—one that would have a measurable effect on the larger, macroscale world—would prove to be … a radio? But the nanotube radio, invented in 2007 by physicist Alex Zettl and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, performs a set of amazing feats: a single carbon nanotube tunes in a broadcast signal, amplifies it, converts it to an audio signal and then sends it to an external speaker in a form that the human ear can readily recognize. If you have any doubts about this assertion, just visit and listen to the song “Layla.”

The nanotube radio, its fabricators say, could be the basis for a range of revolutionary applications: hearing aids, cell phones and ­iPods small enough to fit completely within the ear canal. The nanoradio “would easily fit inside a living cell,” Zettl says. “One can envision interfaces to brain or muscle functions or radio-controlled devices moving through the bloodstream.”

The sounds of Eric Clapton (in his Derek and the Dominos era), despite the static, presage an exciting new era for radio and for technology in general. Think about the ideas shared above. Sport shirts with radios woven into the thread are only one of myriad possibilities. Radio is already ubiquitous, that is one of its strengths, but advancements like this could truly bring it everywhere!

The truly amazing thing is that all of the functionality is contained in one carbon nanotube. Think about it a moment. This means that it simultaneously acts as antenna, tuner, amplifier and demodulator all at once. Not to shabby for a single object smaller than a living cell.

Astounding! Give that Scientific American piece a read. The future is going to be very interesting….

Photo courtesy of jurvetson, used under its Creative Commons license


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