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Saturday, 3 November , 2007 / ermes

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radio_cartoon.gifSingle nanotube makes world’s smallest radio

From UC Berkeley News – Press Release

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations | 31 October 2007

BERKELEY – Physicists at the University of California, Berkeley, have built the smallest radio yet – a single carbon nanotube one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair that requires only a battery and earphones to tune in to your favorite station.

The scientists successfully received their first FM broadcast last year – Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” transmitted from across the room. In homage to last year’s 100th anniversary of the first voice and music radio transmission, they also transmitted and successfully tuned in to the first music piece broadcast in 1906, the “Largo” from George Frederic Handel’s opera “Xerxes.”

“We were just in ecstasy when this worked,” said team leader Alex Zettl, UC Berkeley professor of physics. “It was fantastic.”

The nanoradio, which is currently configured as a receiver but could also work as a transmitter, is 100 billion times smaller than the first commercial radios, and could be used in any number of applications – from cell phones to microscopic devices that sense the environment and relay information via radio signals, Zettl said. Because it is extremely energy efficient, it would integrate well with microelectronic circuits.

“The nanotube radio may lead to radical new applications, such as radio-controlled devices small enough to exist in a human’s bloodstream,” the authors wrote in a paper published online today (Wednesday, Oct. 31) by the journal Nano Letters. The paper will appear in the print edition of Nano Letters later in November.

Authors of the nanoradio paper are Zettl, graduate student Kenneth Jensen, and their colleagues in UC Berkeley’s Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems (COINS) and in the Materials Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). COINS is a Nanoscale Science and Engineering Research Center supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Nanotubes are rolled-up sheets of interlocked carbon atoms that form a tube so strong that some scientists have suggested using a nanotube wire to tether satellites in a fixed position above Earth. The nanotubes also exhibit unusual electronic properties because of their size, which, for the nanotubes used in the radio receiver, are about 10 nanometers in diameter and several hundred nanometers long. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a human hair is about 50,000-100,000 nanometers in diameter.

In the nanoradio, a single carbon nanotube works as an all-in-one antenna, tuner, amplifier and demodulator for both AM and FM. These are separate components in a standard radio. A demodulator removes the AM or FM carrier frequency, which is in the kiloHertz and megaHertz range, respectively, to retrieve the lower frequency broadcast information.

The nanoradio detects radio signals in a radically new way – it vibrates thousands to millions of times per second in tune with the radio wave. This makes it a true nanoelectromechanical device, dubbed NEMS, that integrates the mechanical and electrical properties of nanoscale materials.

In a normal radio, ambient radio waves from different transmitting stations generate small currents at different frequencies in the antenna, while a tuner selects one of these frequencies to amplify. In the nanoradio, the nanotube, as the antenna, detects radio waves mechanically by vibrating at radio frequencies. The nanotube is placed in a vacuum and hooked to a battery, which covers its tip with negatively charged electrons, and the electric field of the radio wave pushes and pulls the tip thousands to millions of times per second.

While large objects, like a stiff wire or a wooden ruler pinned at one end, vibrate at low frequencies – between tens and hundreds of times per second – the tiny nanotubes vibrate at high frequencies ranging from kiloHertz (thousands of times per second) to hundreds of megaHertz (100 million times per second). Thus, a single nanotube naturally selects only one frequency.

Although it might seem that the vibrating nanotube yields a “one station” radio, the tension on the nanotube also influences its natural vibration frequency, just as the tension on a guitar string fine tunes its pitch. As a result, the physicists can tune in a desired frequency or station by “pulling” on the free tip of the nanotube with a positively charged electrode. This electrode also turns the nanotube into an amplifier. The voltage is high enough to pull electrons off the tip of the nanotube and, because the nanotube is simultaneously vibrating, the electron current from the tip is an amplified version of the incoming radio signal. This is similar to the field-emission amplification of old vacuum tube amplifiers used in early radios and televisions, Zettl said. The amplified output of this simple nanotube device is enough to drive a very sensitive earphone.

Finally, the field-emission and vibration together also demodulate the signal.

“I hate to sound like I’m selling a Ginsu knife – But wait, there’s more! It also slices and dices! – but this one nanotube does everything; it performs all radio functions simultaneously and extremely efficiently,” Zettl said. “It’s ridiculously simple – that’s the beauty of it.”

Zettl’s team assembles the nanoradios very simply, too. From nanotubes copiously produced in a carbon arc, they glue several to a fixed electrode. In a vacuum, they bring the electrode within a few microns of a second electrode, close enough for electrons to jump to it from the closest nanotube and create an electrical circuit. To achieve the desired length of the active nanotube, the team first runs a large current through the nanotube to the second electrode, which makes carbon atoms jump off the tip of the nanotube, trimming it down to size for operation within a particular frequency band. Connect a battery and earphones, and voila!

Reception by the initial radios is scratchy, which Zettl attributes in part to insufficient vacuum. In future nanoradios, a better vacuum can be obtained by insuring a cleaner environment, or perhaps by encasing the single nanotube inside a second, larger non-conducting nanotube, thereby retaining the nanoscale.

Zettl won’t only be tuning in to oldies stations with his nanoradio. Because the radio static is actually the sound of atoms jumping on and off the tip of the nanotube, he hopes to use the nanoradio to sense the identity of atoms or even measure their masses, which is done today by cumbersome large mass spectrometers.

Coauthors with Jensen and Zettl are UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow Jeff Weldon and physics graduate student Henry Garcia. The work was supported by NSF and the U.S. Department of Energy.

26 Comments

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  1. Tony Eterey / Nov 3 2007 5:42 PM

    Vabbè poi ci sono una serie di altre rappresentazioni

  2. Tony Italicy / Nov 3 2007 6:01 PM

    Nanopod, musica da una microradio – Paola Caruso, Corsera 02.11.07

  3. Valeria / Nov 3 2007 6:07 PM

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  4. Tony tecnologicy / Nov 12 2007 7:09 PM

    MIT develops lecture search engine to aid students
    Anne Trafton, News Office
    November 7, 2007

    Imagine you are taking an introductory biology course. You’re studying for an exam and realize it would be helpful to revisit the professor’s explanation of RNA interference. Fortunately for you, a digital recording of the lecture is online, but the 10-minute explanation you want is buried in a 90-minute lecture you don’t have time to watch.

    A new lecture search engine developed at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) could help with this dilemma. Created by a team of researchers and students led by MIT associate professor Regina Barzilay and principal research scientist James Glass, the web-based technology allows users to search hundreds of MIT lectures for key topics.

    “Our goal is to develop a speech and language technology that will help educators provide structure to these video recordings, so it’s easier for students to access the material,” said Glass, who is head of CSAIL’s Spoken Language Systems Group.

    More than 200 MIT lectures are currently available on the site (web.sls.csail.mit.edu/lectures/). So far, most of the users are international students who access the lectures through MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative, which makes curriculum materials for most MIT courses available to anyone with Internet access. Although the lecture-browsing system is still in the early development stages, a recent announcement in OCW’s newsletter has drawn increased traffic to the site.

    Barzilay and Glass expect the system will be most useful for OCW users and for MIT students who want to review lecture material. MIT World, a web site that provides video of significant MIT events such as lectures by speakers from MIT and around the world, is also participating in the project.

    Many MIT professors record their lectures and post them online, but it’s difficult to search them for specific topics. Because there is no way to easily scan audio, as you can with printed text, “you end up watching the whole thing, and it’s hard to keep focused,” said Barzilay, the Douglas T. Ross Career Development Associate Professor of Software Development in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

    On the prototype web site, users can search lectures for any term they want and then play the relevant sections.

    The lecture transcripts are created by speech recognition software. One major challenge is that the lectures usually contain many technical terms that might not be in the computer program’s vocabulary, so the researchers use textbooks, lecture notes and abstracts to identify key terms and feed them into the computer.

    “These lectures can have a very specialized vocabulary,” said Glass. “For example, in an algebra class, the professor might talk about Eigenvalues.”

    When properly adapted to a speaker and topic, the lecture-based speech recognizer gets about four out of five words correct, however most of the errors occur in words that are not critical to the lecture topic, i.e., not the key vocabulary terms that people would use to search.

    Once the transcript is complete, a language processing program divides the text into sections by topic. Chunks of text, about 100 words each, are compared with each other using a mathematical formula that calculates the number of overlapping words between the text blocks. Each word is weighted so that repetition of key terms has more weight than less important words, and chunks with the most similar words are grouped into sections.

    In the future, Barzilay and Glass hope to add a lecture summarization feature to the language processing system. They also want to get users more involved in the project, by incorporating a Wikipedia-like function that would let users correct errors in lecture transcripts and allow them to add lecture notes.

    The researchers presented their project at the Interspeech 2007 conference in Antwerp, Belgium, in August. The project was originally funded by Microsoft through the iCampus program and is now funded by the National Science Foundation.

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