Interested in linking to "Think Small, Really Small"?
You may use the Headline, Deck, Byline and URL of this article on your Web site. To link to this article, select and copy the HTML code below and paste it on your own Web site.
Control systems drive actuators of various designs. Some control thousands of amps of electricity, some trigger minute current flows that cascade through computerized pathways, while others drive robots that build things. But the one attribute that most of these control systems share is that they work with tangible, "holdable," macroscopic things. But that is beginning to change.
The emerging science of nanotechnology works with things at the unbelievable scale of a few billionths of an inch (nanometers). For comparison, a typical bacterium is about 1,000 nanometers across, while the smallest virus particles measure 20 nanometers.
But that is old stuff compared to what Sandia National Labs is now doing—they've created a robot.
That doesn't sound particularly groundbreaking—until you realize that this robot, complete with feet and a prehensile tail for mobility, is a single molecule called a "motor protein!" Voila! One step towards being able to construct and control things at the atomic and molecular level.
Another, perhaps more interesting way of building things at the nanoscale is called SELF-assembly, where chemical reactions cause atoms and molecules to automatically come together in the desired configuration.
"The emerging science of nanotechnology works with things at the unbelievable scale of a few billionths of an inch."
Researchers at NASA and USC have recently developed specialized molecular memory out of nanowires by causing them, 10 nanometers in diameter and 2,000 nanometers long, to spontaneously form.
Then, in a subsequent process of dipping the nanowires into a special solution, researchers caused each nanowire to self-assemble different layers upon itself to create molecular transistors along the wire. In fact, these molecules were rather special transistors.
Most typical transistors can define two states: Off or On (zero or one). But these nanowire transistors can assume one of eight states, allowing each transistor to hold three-bits of data rather than the traditional single bit. That trick further improves the storage capacity of this already ultra-dense memory to, potentially, 20 Gbit/cm2!
Another benefit of self-assembly is that, unlike the energy-intensive manufacturing techniques that we currently use to layer and carve-out transistors on chips, building things up from atoms generates little waste and takes but a fraction of the energy. For moreon this, check out recent publications from USC's Engineering Department and the American Society for the Advancment of Science's EurekAlert.
In another direction, researchers are co-opting the techniques that nature has thoughtfully laid out for us to learn from. As described in an
ControlGlobal.com is exclusively dedicated to the global process automation market. We report on developing industry trends, illustrate successful industry applications, and update the basic skills and knowledge base that provide the profession's foundation.