Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Semiconductors get on our nerves

15.11.2001


Peptides could help chips
cling to nerve cells
© SPL


Nerve cells soldered to semiconductors cross computing with neuroscience

Scientists in the United States are soldering nerve cells to semiconductors. Christine Schmidt and colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin use a sliver of protein to connect neurons and tiny crystals of semiconductors called quantum dots1.

This cross between biology and electronics could have useful applications, including the manufacture of prosthetics operated directly by a user’s nerve impulses, and sensors that detect tiny quantities of neurotoxins. It could also help to study how real brains work.



Whether the hybrid heralds a biological computer, a kind of synthetic brain, remains to be seen. It is far from clear whether neurons are any better at computing than the components that are currently used in microelectronic circuitry.

Neurons and electronic logic devices communicate by sending and receiving electrical pulses. The details are different, but neurons can be controlled electronically and neurons can themselves trigger electronic circuits. Researchers have already grown artificial circuits from neurons on silicon chips to monitor nerve activity electronically.

But it is hard to get a smooth dialogue going between neurons and semiconductors. Nerve cells tend to grow over every surface in sight, like lichen over stone, but they don’t stick very closely. The gap they leave produces a poor electrical contact.

Schmidt’s team creates specific, intimate links between neurons and semiconductors using a small protein fragment. One end of this peptide latches onto a nerve cell’s surface; the other sticks to the surface of the semiconductor. Being small, the peptide holds the two surfaces closely together.

One end of the peptide contains a chemical hook that snags a particular protein, called an integrin, that is present on the surface of human neurons. Peptides without this hook don’t attach to nerve cells. At the other end, a sulphur-containing chemical group bonds to the semiconductor cadmium sulphide.

Using these peptides, the researchers stud the surface of a neuron with tiny ’nanocrystals’ of cadmium sulphide, just three millionths of a millimetre (three nanometres) across. The nanocrystal-decorated cell is easy to see under the microscope because the crystals, also known as quantum dots, are fluorescent.

Quantum dots can act as miniature electronic devices, but the same approach could attach neurons to the larger semiconductor components of conventional microelectronic circuits. Another group at the University of Texas has devised peptides that recognize different kinds of semiconductor2., raising the possibility of peptide-solder molecules that are selective at both ends.

References

  1. Winter, J. O., Liu, T. Y., Korgel, B. A. & Schmidt, C. E. Recognition molecule directed interfacing between semiconductor quantum dots and nerve cells. Advanced Materials, 13, 1673 - 1677, (2001).

  2. Whaley, S. R., English, D. S., Hu, E. L., Barbara, P. F. & Belcher, A. M. Nature, 405, 665 - 668 , (2000).

PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/011115/011115-7.html

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Did you know that the wrapping of Easter eggs benefits from specialty light sources?
13.04.2017 | Heraeus Noblelight GmbH

nachricht To e-, or not to e-, the question for the exotic 'Si-III' phase of silicon
05.04.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>