Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New nanoscale electrical phenomenon discovered

19.05.2010
At the scale of the very small, physics can get peculiar. A University of Michigan biomedical engineering professor has discovered a new instance of such a nanoscale phenomenon—one that could lead to faster, less expensive portable diagnostic devices and push back frontiers in building micro-mechanical and "lab on a chip" devices.

In our macroscale world, materials called conductors effectively transmit electricity and materials called insulators or dielectrics don't, unless they are jolted with an extremely high voltage. Under such "dielectric breakdown" circumstances, as when a bolt of lightening hits a rooftop, the dielectric (the rooftop in this example) suffers irreversible damage.

This isn't the case at the nanoscale, according to a new discovery by Alan Hunt, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Hunt and his research team were able to get an electric current to pass nondestructively through a sliver of glass, which isn't usually a conductor.

A paper on the research is newly published online in Nature Nanotechnology.

"This is a new, truly nanoscale physical phenomenon," Hunt said. "At larger scales, it doesn't work. You get extreme heating and damage.

"What matters is how steep the voltage drop is across the distance of the dielectric. When you get down to the nanoscale and you make your dielectric exceedingly thin, you can achieve the breakdown with modest voltages that batteries can provide. You don't get the damage because you're at such a small scale that heat dissipates extraordinarily quickly."

These conducting nanoscale dielectric slivers are what Hunt calls liquid glass electrodes, fabricated at the U-M Center for Ultrafast Optical Science with a femtosecond laser, which emits light pulses that are only quadrillionths of a second long.

The glass electrodes are ideal for use in lab-on-a-chip devices that integrate multiple laboratory functions onto one chip just millimeters or centimeters in size. The devices could lead to instant home tests for illnesses, food contaminants and toxic gases. But most of them need a power source to operate, and right now they rely on wires to route this power. It's often difficult for engineers to insert these wires into the tiny machines, Hunt said.

"The design of microfluidic devices is constrained because of the power problem," Hunt said. "But we can machine electrodes right into the device."

Instead of using wires to route electricity, Hunt's team etches channels through which ionic fluid can transmit electricity. These channels, 10 thousand times thinner than the dot of this "i," physically dead-end at their intersections with the microfluidic or nanofluidic channels in which analysis is being conducted on the lab-on a-chip (this is important to avoid contamination). But the electricity in the ionic channels can zip through the thin glass dead-end without harming the device in the process.

This discovery is the result of an accident. Two channels in an experimental nanofluidic device didn't line up properly, Hunt said, but the researchers found that electricity did pass through the device.

"We were surprised by this, as it runs counter to accepted thinking about the behavior of nonconductive materials," Hunt said. "Upon further study we were able to understand why this could happen, but only at the nanometer scale."

As for electronics applications, Hunt said that the wiring necessary in integrated circuits fundamentally limits their size.

"If you could utilize reversible dielectric breakdown to work for you instead of against you, that might significantly change things," Hunt said.

The paper is called "Liquid glass electrodes for nanofluidics." This research is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property, and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.

The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. At $160 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of the largest of any public university. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. The college plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and hosts the world-class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility. Michigan Engineering's premier scholarship, international scale and multidisciplinary scope combine to create The Michigan Difference. Find out more at www.engin.umich.edu.

Contact: Nicole Casal Moore
Phone: (734) 647-7087

Nicole Casal Moore | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

Further reports about: Ferchau Engineering Science TV microfluidic device toxic gas

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
23.02.2017 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'

23.02.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

'Quartz' crystals at the Earth's core power its magnetic field

23.02.2017 | Earth Sciences

Antimicrobial substances identified in Komodo dragon blood

23.02.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>