Monday, January 21, 2008

Diatoms - The next wave of computing?

Diatoms, a common member of Phytoplankton, are not only commonplace to the extreme, (oceans/freshwater streams/soils/damp surfaces) they also differ from all other organisms because they "are encased within a unique cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide) called a frustule."

This cell structure has intrigued scientists for centuries not only because of its exquisite and intricate beauty but also on the kind of material it's made of. "Diatoms build their hard cell walls by laying down submicron-sized lines of silica, a compound related to the key material of the semiconductor industry—silicon. “If we can genetically control that process, we would have a whole new way of performing the nanofabrication used to make computer chips,” says Michael Sussman, a University of Wisconsin-Madison biochemistry professor and director of the UW-Madison’s Biotechnology Center."

"To that end, a team led by Sussman and diatom expert Virginia Armbrust of the University of Washington has reported finding a set of 75 genes specifically involved in silica bioprocessing in the diatom."

Using this data, scientists may be able to program diatoms to build chips that are much faster and smaller in size, thus avoiding the limits of Moore's Law "as diatoms are capable of producing lines much smaller than current technology allows."

The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible. - Arthur C. Clarke
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