Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Semiconductors get on our nerves


Peptides could help chips
cling to nerve cells

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.


  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:

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: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>