I wrote recently about spray-on nanocomputers. Now, according to the Associated Press, a team of chemists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) has developed minuscule grains of silicon able to self-assembly and to sense their environment, paving the way for future nanorobots.
The particles can identify and surround drops of oil or other pollutants in water, according to the researchers at the University of California, San Diego.
And they hope the research could be a first step to developing minute robots for use in medicine, pollution monitoring and even bioterrorism surveillance.
"This is a key development in what we hope will one day make possible the development of robots the size of a grain of sand," Michael Sailor, leader of the research team, said in a statement.
This UCSD news release tells us more.
To create the smart dust, the researchers use chemicals to etch one side of a silicon chip, similar to the chips used in computers, generating a colored mirrored surface with tiny pores. They make this porous surface water repellent, or hydrophobic, by allowing a chemical that is hydrophobic to bind to it. They then etch the other side of the chip to create a porous reflective surface of a different color and expose the surface to air so that it becomes hydrophilic, or attractive to water.
Here is a small image of smart dust particles surrounding a drop of hydrophobic liquid in water (Credit: Jamie Link, UCSD).
[Note: A much larger image (2048 x 1536 pixels) is available from this UCSD location.]
Jamie Link, a graduate student [and member of the research team] says the dual-sided particles have the additional benefit of being able to collect at a target and then self-assemble into a larger, more visible reflector that can be seen from a distance.
It seems we're getting closer everyday from these "robots the size of a grain of sand."
Sources: The Associated Press, August 25, 2003; UCSD news release, August 25, 2003
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