The Loh Down On Science

Algae Computer

You may someday have a computer with chips from the ocean.

Computer chips made from algae??!!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

bringing you the latest technology from the briny deep.

Single-celled types of algae called diatoms build their hard shells by bundling natural silica--or silicon dioxide, a.k.a. sand--into intricate patterns.

Conveniently, silica is chemically similar to siliCON, the material used in modern-day computer chips. To build faster and faster chips, engineers need to lay more--and tinier -- lines of silicon. Hard to do with conventional manufacturing methods.

But wait, says biochemist Michael Sussman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's hoping to harness the diatoms' mad building skillz. How? By tweaking the genes diatoms use to build their shells. Instead of silica, they'd use silicon.

And because diatoms make their silica lines so small and densely packed--less than a millionth of a meter wide--harnessing their ability could vastly improve a chip's processing speed.

All you'd have to do is let the organisms loose on a chip, and Voila! World's tiniest factory workers.

Yes, seems they'll stop at nothing to take away American jobs. Now they're outsourcing to the SEA! Thank you, NAFTA. . .


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