Researchers in Germany have developed a conducting wire that self-assembles using DNA strands in the pursuit of creating smaller components for computers and other electronic devices.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and Paderborn University have conducted a current through gold-plated nanowires that independently assembled themselves from single DNA strands.
The research paves the way for new methods to devise even smaller wires, circuits, and other electronic components, which traditionally have led to innovation in technology design and development, said Artur Erbe, research leaders at HZDR’s Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research.
“The miniaturization of electronic components has lead to amazing developments--for example smartphones can nowadays perform computations which some years ago even the most powerful desktop computers could not have performed, and they do it at fractions of the energy consumption and size,” he said. “Further scaling down will lead to even more powerful devices saving more energy. The desire to develop such devices drives a huge industry, which will soon approach the limits of traditional fabrication methods. It is therefore important to develop ways for the production of smaller components by new methods.”
The nanometer-sized structures developed by the researchers connect two electrical contacts. To produce the nanowires, the team combined a long single strand of genetic material with shorter DNA segments through the base pairs to form a stable double strand. Using this method, the structures independently took on the form desired by researchers, Erbe said.
“With the help of this approach, which resembles the Japanese paper folding technique origami and is therefore referred to as ‘DNA origami,’ we can create tiny patterns," he said. “Extremely small circuits made of molecules and atoms are also conceivable here.”
Researchers published a paper about their work in the journal Langmuir.
Erbe said it’s becoming challenging to continue to use the “top down” method of designing small components and devices, which start with something big and scale down to smaller and smaller sizes. “It becomes very expensive and energy consuming when structure sizes are below 10 nanometers,” Erbe said.
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The HZDR team’s research takes a more bottoms-up approach, which promises to be less expensive and consume much less energy, Erbe said. The self-assembly component also saves time and energy in developing the components, he said.
“Their ability to form nanoscale conducting wires by self-assembly can make the production process cheaper and less energy consuming,” Erbe said.
The wires developed by the team can be used as interconnects for active devices, he said. Erbe and fellow researchers plan to continue to work to scale the technology further down and make the nanowires even more conductive. They also will include other materials as active elements, such as diodes or memory elements, he said.
Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York . She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.