February 15, 2007
Thin Silicon Slice Makes Great Biochemical Filter

A slice of semiconductor silicon turns out to make a useful filter for small biological molecules.

A newly designed porous membrane, so thin it's invisible edge-on, may revolutionize the way doctors and scientists manipulate objects as small as a molecule.

The 50-atom thick filter can withstand surprisingly high pressures and may be a key to better separation of blood proteins for dialysis patients, speeding ion exchange in fuel cells, creating a new environment for growing neurological stem cells, and purifying air and water in hospitals and clean-rooms at the nanoscopic level.

At more than 4,000 times thinner than a human hair, the new barely-there membrane is thousands of times thinner than similar filters in use today.

This silicon is from the crystals routinely grown for computer semiconductor chip manufacturing. So here's yet another example of how the computer semiconductor industry is producing materials moldable into biologically useful devices.

The membrane is a 15-nanometer-thick slice of the same silicon that's used every day in computer-chip manufacturing. In the lab of Philippe Fauchet, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University, Striemer discovered the membrane as he was looking for a way to better understand how silicon crystallizes when heated.

He used such a thin piece of silicon—only about 50 atoms thick—because it would allow him to use an electron microscope to see the crystal structure in his samples, formed with different heat treatments.

Back in the 1950s, 1960s, and well into the 1970s all computers were seen as large devices that filled up large rooms. But beneath the surface a technological revolution of doublings in power and halvings in costs kept repeating again and again. Suddenly the computer chips became cheap enough to put into desktop personal computers and computing became useful for the masses. Well, the same is going to happen with microfluidic devices and DNA gate arrays.

After years of technological changes only visible inside of research labs the technological advances for making miniature biochips will reach a critical mass where suddenly they will spread out into the mass market. Personal DNA testing in the private of your own home will give you your DNA sequence uploaded into your home computer. Also, implantable biochips will let you watch your blood chemistry in real time and microfluidic devices will make it possible for you to synthesize your own drugs and other treatments.

What I see coming: downloadable free software that'll program your home microfluidic biochips to make unapproved and restricted drugs and biochemical components. Just as we can download software that'll enhance what our computers can do we will be able to download an ever growing set of programs with instructions for orchestrating microfluidic biochips to more and more kinds of biochemical products.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 February 15 12:12 AM  Biotech Advance Rates

Cedric Morrison said at February 15, 2007 5:04 AM:

I can practically hear the media hysteria already--the flood of stories about illegal drugs, bad recipes, and deadly pranks. Considering that one can no longer buy a decent chemistry set, my intuition tells me that the government will do everything it can to keep this technology out of the hands of the public.

Kurt9 said at February 15, 2007 1:11 PM:

The arsehole FDA. AMA, and Federal government will try to restrict the availability of this technology. Afterall, we can't just let all of those MDs and big pharma companies become redundant. And the mainstream media (as the previous poster said), claiming to be the benevalent liberals out to protect us all, will raise all kinds of hysteria about illegal drugs and bad recipies in order to discredit this technology. This will, of course, benefit big pharma and the AMA at the expense of the rest of us, which is very typical liberals.

My basic problem with the liberals is that they promote all kinds of government regulation that ends up benefiting the big corporations that they claim to be defending us against. The liberals have some kind of mental block that prevents them from understanding that the battle line is not between government and big business, it is between any kind of large scale institution (both government and large corporations) vs. people being enabled to do things on their own independent of large scale social institutions.

Its obviously the liberals who have become redundant in the modern age.

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