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 Researchers measure near-perfect performance in low-cost semiconductors
18.03.2019 | Stanford University

nachricht Robot arms with the flexibility of an elephant’s trunk
18.03.2019 | Universität des Saarlandes

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: The taming of the light screw

DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.

The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Open source software helps researchers extract key insights from huge sensor datasets

22.03.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>