A nanofluidic transistor, too small to see with the naked eye, could allow the creation of microscopic chemical plants that operate without moving parts. As seen in the diagram below, the flow of ions through the liquid inside the nanotube (blue) is shut off by a voltage at the gate (yellow). (Images courtesy Majumdar & Yang labs)
University of California, Berkeley, researchers have invented a variation on the standard electronic transistor, creating the first "nanofluidic" transistor that allows them to control the movement of ions through sub-microscopic, water-filled channels.
The researchers - a chemist and a mechanical engineer - predict that, just as the electronic transistor became the main component of microprocessors and integrated circuits, so will nanofluidic transistors anchor molecular processors, allowing microscopic chemical plants on a chip that operate without moving parts. No valves to get stuck, no pumps to blow, no mixers to get clogged.
"A transistor is like a valve, but you use electricity to open or close it," explained Arun Majumdar, professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley. "Here, we use a voltage to open or close an ion channel. Now that we’ve shown you can make this building block, we can hook it up to an electronic chip to control the fluidics."
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