Tiny device can help build more powerful computers

August 21st, 2008 - 3:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 21 (IANS) Engineers have fabricated a tiny positioning device that will help build more compact, powerful computer hard drives and practically double the effectiveness of biological sensors. Called monolithic comb drive (MCD), it can be potentially used as a “nanoscale manipulator” for use in watery environments to probe biological molecules, said Jason Vaughn Clark, an assistant professor of electrical, computer and mechanical engineering at Purdue University, who created the design.

The MCD could enable probe-based sensors, that detect viruses and biological molecules, to work much faster and at higher resolution, small enough to fit a microchip.

The higher resolution might be used to design future computer hard drives capable of high-density data storage and retrieval. Another possible use might be to fabricate or assemble miniature, micro and nanoscale machines.

Conventional comb drives have a pair of comblike sections, meaning they mesh together. These meshing fingers are drawn toward one another when a voltage is applied.

Clark calls the device monolithic because it contains comb drive components that are not mechanically and electrically separate. Conventional comb drives are structurally “decoupled” to keep opposite charges separated.

“Unlike conventional drives, which only move in one direction, our new device can move in two directions - left to right, forward and backward - an advance that could really open up the door for many applications.”

Current probe-based biological sensors have a resolution of about 20 nanometres “about the size of 200 atoms, so if you are scanning for a particular molecule, it may be hard to find,” Clark said. “With our design, the higher atomic-scale resolution should make it easier to find.”

Research findings were detailed in a technical paper presented in July during the University Government Industry Micro / Nano Symposium in Louisville.

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