August 12, 2009

Nanowires That Behave Like Cells

Transistors with lipid membranes could make better interfaces for neural prosthetics.

Technology Review August 11, 2009

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have sealed silicon-nanowire transistors in a membrane similar to those that surround biological cells. These hybrid devices, which operate similarly to nerve cells, might be used to make better interfaces for prosthetic limbs and cochlear implants. They might also work well as biosensors for medical diagnostics.

Hybrid nanowire: The silicon nanowire shown in the microscope image (top) is covered in a fatty membrane similar to those that surround biological cells. The bottom image is an illustration depicting the two layers of lipid molecules that surround the nanowire, sealing it from the surrounding environment. Ions can pass through the membrane via an ion channel, depicted here in lavender.
Credit: Aleksandr Noy

Biological communication is sophisticated and remains unmatched in today's electronics, which rely on electrical fields and currents. Cells in the human body use many additional means of communication including hormones, neurotransmitters, and ions such as calcium. The nexus of biological communication is the cell membrane, a double layer of fatty molecules studded with proteins that act as gatekeepers and perform the first steps in biological signal processing.

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