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Monday, April 27, 2009

Nano radio, not iPod Nano, Really Nano

This post has little to do with Tutor.com directly, but if you get excited by cool science, you'll want to read more. Maybe I'll find some connection to my day job as I finish writing.

It takes me a few weeks to get through the entire Scientific American magazine, and I'm a month behind, but what's exciting me for the past week, as my kids will attest from several conversations and demonstrations online, is an article on page 40 in the March issue, "The World's Smallest Radio". You can also find it online at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-worlds-smallest-radio.

I'm no science writer, but Ed Regis does a great job for Scientific American, of explaining how Alex Zettl and his colleagues at UC Berkeley elegantly created a fully functioning radio that is the size of a typical virus. A virus! 200 nanometers long and 10 nanometers wide -- about 10,000 times thinner than the width of a human hair. (note, 1 nanometer = one millionth of a millimeter!)

OK, you get it, really really small. This one nanotube performs all the functions of a radio -- antenna, tuner, amplifier, and demodulator, all in one, from a substance that is essentially very small particles left behind when you rub a pencil's graphite on a hard surface. The even more amazing part of this applied science experiment is that Zettl's team videotaped it using an extremely powerful microscope. If you're a science and Clapton fan, you'll really enjoy watching the first nano radio playing Layla. Zettl's site includes the full playback for the actual radio experiment, video and audio: http://www.physics.berkeley.edu/research/zettl/projects/nanoradio/radio.html.

This is probably old news for the nano science community (experiments in 2007), but that's not my audience, and SciAm just published this last month.

The applications for this are limitless. Imagine tumor cells being able to automatically transmit data about themselves to nano devices that are delivering chemo treatment just to those particular cells, equipped with their own nano radios.

Ah, I've got it, the connection to Tutor.com: maybe, just maybe, one of the thousands of physics students we help each week is getting stuck on an AP Physics problem tonight. She's getting frustrated and about to give up, but remembers that she can connect to a physics tutor at Tutor.com for immediate help. She gets the help, pursues a career in nano medicine, and figures out how to use nano radios to deliver cancer therapies directly to a tumor, without causing damage to any other organs. One can dream. And we should...

George Cigale, gcigale@tutor.com