May 14, 2012

New Material Could Mean Smaller, Faster Computers

In the ongoing search for smaller, faster and more efficient computers, new research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden suggests graphene and carbon nanotubes could be used to create these super small, super fast computers and smartphones.

Both made of carbon, the nanotubes and graphene have specific and unique properties, making them ideal for computing.

Graphene, for example, is made up of carbon layers which are only atom-thick. Nanotubes are comprised in a similar way, and can be compared to a sheet of graphene which has been rolled up into a tube.

Dr. Anders Nordenfelt from Gothenburgh University explains the usefulness of these two elements this way:

“If you stretch a graphene sheet from end to end the thin layer can oscillate at a basic frequency of getting on for a billion times a second.”

“This is the same frequency range used by radios, mobile phones and computers.”

WIth similar frequencies to what is already being used, researchers like Dr. Nordenfelt hope the small size and weight of these materials will not only reduce the amount of electricity used to power future smartphones, but could also allow for these devices to be as small as designers and engineers would like them to be.

These nanotubes and graphene sheets could also be used for some extreme measurements, such as weighing extremely small objects, such as DNA molecules.

The high mechanical resonance frequencies of these materials also means they can be used to pick up radio signals.

The challenge for future engineers and designers, then, is to be able to harness these resonant frequencies.

In a press release detailing the discovery, Dr. Nordenfelt said, “The question is whether they can also be used to produce this type of signal in a controlled and effective way.”

“This assumes that they themselves are not driven by an oscillating signal that, in turn, needs to be produced by something else.”

Researching these graphene sheets and carbon nanotubes, Dr. Nordenfelt has carried out a mathematical analysis to demonstrate how to connect the nanotubes to an electronic circuit as well as applying a magnetic field, which will allow the nanotubes to oscillate by themselves.

“At the same time we´re converting a direct current to an alternating current with the same frequency as the mechanical oscillation,” says Dr. Nordenfelt.

Taking the discovery beyond energy efficiency and small size, Dr. Nordenfelt also says these oscillating nanotubes are able to operate and hum within its own set of harmonics, just like a guitar or violin string. These harmonics, when played on an instrument, are what give the instrument its specific sound.

“An unexpected and very interesting result is that the method I´ve proposed can be used to get the nanowire to self-oscillate in one of its harmonics,” says Dr. Nordenfelt.

“You can change the harmonic by altering the size of one or more of the electronic components.”

Dr. Nordenfelt says there are an infinite number of harmonics with unlimited high frequencies which can be achieved in principle, however there are practical limitations.

Researchers have long hoped to produce frequencies in the terahertz range, carrying trillions of oscillations per second.

Such oscillation frequencies are too fast to be recreated with electrical circuits, and too slow to be carried out by optical circuits.

“We can´t get these really high frequencies with my method as things stand, but it could be something for the future,” says Dr.  Nordenfelt.


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