Professor Claims He Can Grow Computers, Cellphones Organically

December 2, 2007 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Computers won’t quite grow from trees, but with a little prodding, nature can grow them. Really. A professor at University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, claims he has developed the necessary procedure.

A template for nature to follow to organically grow ‘self assembling’ structures was invented recently by Ray Phaneuf, an associate professor of materials science and engineering.

He claims the template he’s developed causes atoms to be arranged in a defined pattern that can be used like a semiconductor in a laptop, a component in a cell phone or a sensor in a wearable device.

The process sounds bafflingly simple, considering what the output amounts to. The templates are created using photolithography and nanoscraping. The first procedure is similar to photography – it’s a chemical reaction that takes place after a template is exposed to light. Another part of the process is termed ‘etching’ or ‘nanoscraping’. This is more complicated; an atomic force microscope is used to selectively scrape a pattern into the template.

The template process can be used by device manufacturers to mass-produce tiny components rapidly and efficiently, reduce costs, shrink device sizes, and improve devices’ functionality in ways previously not possible.

The template could be followed by natural growth processes to produce “self-assembling” structures, Phaneuf claims. He says that the idea of self-assembly in nature is natural (what else?) and points at crystallization as one such process. The formation of shells into spirals is another example.

Until Phaneuf made his template, research had been limited to designs that nature already creates naturally. Phaneuf’s work introduces a man-made template that nature then follows. He has, cleverly, included a number of manufacturing difficulties. This way, making things out of a countable number of atoms, currently a very complicated process, could be done by nature.

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