News Stories

Microcheeps

Richard Wool, of the University of Delaware, thinks chickenfeathers will make better microchips than silicon. Wool andhis colleagues at the university's ACRES project (AffordableComposites from Renewable Sources) are trying to find newways to use natural and waste materials.

Unlike researchers who start with a waste product and try tofigure out what to do with it, Wool looks at existingproducts and tries to find a waste product or aneasy-to-grow crop that could be used to duplicate it. "Thisis going to lead to sustainable technologies that are veryenvironmentally friendly," Wool says. "They can help easethe global warming situation in at least two ways. Growingthe plants will suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,and reducing the amount of petrochemicals that need to beburned will mean less atmospheric carbon in the first place."

Raw materials like soybeans, olives, flax can be growneasily and cheaply. By substituting them for petroleum-basedplastics, we can reduce our dependence on foreign anddomestic oil.

A microchip is a wafer of silicon inscribed with a maze oftransistors. For the chip to work, electric signals have totravel across these transistors. Signals travel fasterthrough materials than others. Air allows the fastestmovement of all, because it has no resistance.

Although signals move more slowly in silicon than they do inair, silicon offers less resistance than many othermaterials. But engineers are looking for ways to inscribemore transistors into ever-tinier spaces, and they worrythat they?re reaching a physical limit.

One possible solution is finding a quicker material thansilicon. Wool thinks chicken feather may be the answer,because feathers contain lots of air, since they have to bestrong but light in order to enable birds to fly. Thepresence of air may make electrons travel faster as well.

While our computers are becoming organic, our food isbecoming more unnatural. Are genetically-modified foodssafe? Find out by reading ?Eating in the Dark? by KathleenHart,click here.

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