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What Is a Nanoradio?

Mal Baxter
Mal Baxter

If there were any doubt that a science fiction future has arrived, consider the manufacture of 10,000 radios on a strand the size of a human hair. This unlikely scenario describes the very real nanoradio. A receiving and transmitting structure, it consists of a carbon nanotube radio that can be bundled into fibers. The structure is created on the nanometer scale; that is, in billionths of a meter, or in atom thicknesses. For existing technologies, the nanoradio can work in telecommunications and common electronics applications, as well as a multitude of possible innovations.

Nanotubes are atomic structures that resemble soccer balls drawn into cylinders. Technically, these are fullerene structures that include the buckyball, or geodesic structural pattern. Graphene walls a single atom thick extend into tubes.

Woman holding a disc
Woman holding a disc

Carbon nanotubes can sometimes end in a similar buckyball structure. Latticed carbon molecules are called fullerenes; these are so named after Buckminster Fuller, the architectural modeler and inventor of the geodesic lattice structure. Like atom-thick chickenwire, it can be shaped in many other ways too; it can be rolled, laid out in ribbons, or protruded into nanobud field emitters. Carbon nanotubes are able to function in all the ways of radio components. For example, they can work as antennas, amplifiers, tuners, and demodulators.

Traditional radios translate airborne radio waves into electronic current. A nanoradio, however, behaves much more like the vibrating hair of the inner ear, or a tuning fork. With one end rooted into an electrode, the filament vibrates, altering a battery's electric field.

The nanotube vibrates in harmony with an electromagnetic signal, which is essentially demodulated or amplified. Depending on the technical design, sound may be produced through mechanical vibration or thermoacoustically. Nanotubes can play back signals without external circuitry, filters, or signal processors, unlike larger electronic radios; and they are a thousand times smaller than silicon chip radios.

Taking nanoradio as a solution, one might question what the problem was. The development of radio devices that are small enough to occupy a patient's bloodstream or ear canal suggest many possible future innovations. More familiarly, a large number of wireless applications can be well served by this technology.

Portable electronics like cell phones, music players, and headsets, as well as computers and gaming platforms, can all potentially benefit from these microscopic Marconi devices. The modern, wired world frequently relies on the transmission of radio and microwaves between countless devices. On this atomic scale, the world moves a hair's breadth closer to a new golden age of nanoradio.

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