Stretching for thousands of miles beneath oceans, optical fibers now connect every continent except for Antarctica. But although optical fibers are increasingly replacing copper wires, carrying information via photons instead of electrons, today's computer technology still relies on electronic chips. Now, researchers led by engineers at the Caltech are paving the way for the next generation of computer-chip technology: photonic chips.
At the forefront of nanotechnology, researchers design miniature machines to do big jobs, from treating diseases to harnessing sunlight for energy. But as they push the limits of this technology, devices are becoming so small and sensitive that the behavior of individual atoms starts to get in the way. Now Caltech researchers have, for the first time, measured and characterized these atomic fluctuations—which cause statistical noise—in a nanoscale device.
Caltech scientists have conducted experiments confirming which of three possible mechanisms is responsible for the spontaneous formation of 3-D pillar arrays in nanofilms. These protrusions appear suddenly when the surface of a molten nanofilm is exposed to an extreme temperature gradient and self-organize into hexagonal, lamellar, square, or spiral patterns.
More than 50 years ago, at a meeting of the American Physical Society hosted by Caltech, Richard Feynman gave a talk called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” In his visionary speech, Feynman discussed the technological promise of tiny machines as small as a few atoms. This promise has grown into a full-fledged discipline we now know as nanoscience, and it is the subject of TEDxCaltech’s last session, “Nanoscience and Future Biology.”
Caltech scientists recently demonstrated a robot that is capable of following a trail of chemical breadcrumbs. The surprising twist: the robot consists of a single molecule. The three-legged "molecular spider" can traverse a DNA origami landscape from one end to the other (albeit rather ploddingly), turning corners as needed and stopping when it reaches its destination. Graduate student Nadine Dabby will describe the tiny traveler at January's TEDxCaltech conference, where she is a featured speaker.
Computers, light bulbs, and even people generate heat—energy that ends up being wasted. Thermoelectric devices, which convert heat to electricity and vice versa, harness that energy. But they're not efficient enough for widespread commercial use or are made from expensive or environmentally harmful rare materials.
Now, Caltech researchers have developed a new type of material—a nanomesh, composed of a thin film with a grid-like arrangement of tiny holes—that could lead to efficient thermoelectric devices.
Two scientists from Caltech have been recognized by the National Institutes of Health for their innovative and high-impact biomedical research programs. Michael Roukes, professor of physics, applied physics, and bioengineering, and co-director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute, and Pamela Bjorkman, Caltech's Max Delbrück Professor of Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, now join the 81 Pioneers who have been selected since the program's inception in 2004.
A team of scientists from Columbia University, Arizona State University, the University of Michigan, and Caltech have programmed an autonomous molecular "robot" made out of DNA to start, move, turn, and stop while following a DNA track.
The development could ultimately lead to molecular systems that might one day be used for medical therapeutic devices and molecular-scale reconfigurable robots—robots made of many simple units that can reposition or even rebuild themselves to accomplish different tasks.
Producing coherent light on a microchip is old hat—LED lasers underpin our high-tech world, appearing in gadgets ranging from DVD players and supermarket checkout scanners to digital data lines. A new chip-compatible component developed at Caltech can produce coherent sound as well, and even interconvert the two. Who knows where this marriage of sound and light might lead?