Scientists Experiment With DNA to Create Thinner, Lighter Electronics

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It’s hard to imagine our smartphones getting any thinner or lighter. We’ve come such a long way from those clunky Zack Morris phones of the early ‘90s that anything thinner than our iPhones or Galaxies seem almost superfluous.

But, according to MIT News, scientists at Harvard and MIT are charging ahead with their quest to develop the lightest electronics possible. And they’re doing it by experimenting with two of the smallest substances: graphene and DNA.

Graphene is essentially a thin sheet of carbon atoms. And when we say thin, we mean really thin: graphene is only one atom thick. And so, this sheet of carbon is widely considered to be the ideal material to make electronic chips.

Almost ideal, that is: Usually, in order to make these chips, the circuits have to be placed onto graphene sheets one at a time. And so, while you could have super-light electronic chips to produce really thin phones, it would be incredibly time-consuming to produce them.

Until now. Scientists have recently developed technology to address this efficiency issue and it involves DNA.

DNA’s most valuable trait is its ability to store vast amounts of information within molecular-sized storage space. But instead of using DNA to code for say, the production of human skin cells, these scientists like Michael Strano, a chemical engineering professor at MIT and Peng Yin, an assistant professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School, are creating pre-made templates to quickly build the electronic circuits onto graphene. The DNA molecules are small enough that they are able to be shaped into intricate design molds for the circuit templates.

This new DNA/graphene technology is still in the early stages of development and so there’s no guarantee that we’ll get super-lightweight chips and electronics. But it does give researchers a chance to design circuits that could possibly be housed in graphene.

Strano and Yin’s research on the use of DNA templates on graphene was published in the April 9 issue of Nature Communications.

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