World's smallest transistor radio shows nanotechnology potential

Nanotechnology, so long the preserve of sci-fi writers like John Marlow, has taken a giant leap forward in the real world, with the news that scientists in the US have built the world’s smallest functioning transistor radio using carbon nanotubes.

According to John Rogers, who is a Founder Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois, where the radios were built the radios represent “important first steps toward the practical implementation of carbon-nanotube materials into high-speed analog electronics and other related applications.”

The university research team worked closely with radio frequency electronics engineers from Northrop Grumman Electronics Systems, which is also based in the US. According to ZDNet the active elements of the radio are so small they would fit onto a grain of sand.

The radio the team produced was based on a heterodyne receiver design consisting of four capacitively coupled stages: an active resonant antenna, two radio-frequency amplifiers, and an audio amplifier. Carbon nanotube devices provided all of the radio’s key functions.

Once built, the radios were put to the test. Researchers found they were able to use the radio to tune into a Baltimore radio station’s traffic report. However, the research team are hoping their research will extend far beyond the manufacture of minute radios.

“Our goal is not to make tiny radios, but to develop nanotubes as a higher-performing semiconductor," said Professor Rogers. "The radio is really a step along the path to building new platforms for electronics technology."