Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Computer Chips Found To Possess Explosive Properties Useful For Chemical Analysis And Nanoscale Sensors

Date:
January 10, 2002
Source:
University Of California - San Diego
Summary:
Chemists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered that silicon wafers, the raw starting material for computer chips, can be easily made into tiny explosives that might be used one day to chemically analyze samples in the field or serve as power sources for tiny electronic sensors the size of a speck of dust.

Chemists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered that silicon wafers, the raw starting material for computer chips, can be easily made into tiny explosives that might be used one day to chemically analyze samples in the field or serve as power sources for tiny electronic sensors the size of a speck of dust.

The UCSD scientists provide the technical details for some of these futuristic applications in a paper featured on the cover of the January issue of Advanced Materials, a scientific journal based in Germany.

“Most people are familiar with silicon as the material that’s used in computer chips for circuits,” says Michael J. Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry who headed the research project. “This is the same material, but we’re making it into a very finely divided form of silicon—a nanocrystal—that has such a high surface area that it burns very quickly. The faster the burn, the bigger the bang.”

Like gunpowder—a mixture of carbon, potassium nitrate and sulfur—the UCSD scientists knew previously that a silicon-based explosive would explode when mixed with potassium nitrate. However, Frederic V. Mikulec, a postdoctoral researcher in Sailor’s laboratory, discovered by accident while working with a porous wafer of silicon that substituting potassium nitrate with gadolinium nitrate had the same effect.

“When he tried to cleave the wafer with a diamond scribe, it blew up in his face,” recalls Sailor. “It was just a small explosion, like a cap going off in a cap gun. But it really surprised us, so we started looking more closely at it, because the gadolinium produced a very clean burning flame.”

The absence of chemical impurities, the UCSD scientists say, makes the gadolinium- and silicon-based explosive ideal for use in a device that could perform rapid chemical analysis of toxic metals and other elements in the field.

“If you want to look for lead or other toxic metal ions in a sample of groundwater, typically what’s done is that the sample is taken back to a laboratory and analyzed in an emission spectrometer,” explains Sailor. “In that spectrometer, the groundwater is mixed with other chemicals and burned—and the flame produces a characteristic set of colors that correspond to certain chemicals. What we did in this experiment is to show that you can miniaturize this analytical laboratory using porous silicon and gadolinium nitrate into something that’s as small as the diameter of a human hair. So that when you’re out in the field, you can do this flame emission spectrometry instantaneously with a device that fits in the palm of your hand.”

Another, more futuristic, application of this miniature silicon explosion might be to use it as the propulsion source for micro-electrical mechanical systems, or MEMS. These dust-sized devices built on silicon could be designed to search for explosives, toxic compounds or biological agents—and powered by little rocket engines built into the silicon. One advantage of silicon explosives over conventional explosives, which must be ignited by mechanical means, is that they can be ignited electronically, allowing the military to build safer explosives, which won’t detonate when dropped.

“Let’s say you have a computer chip collecting information on the ground and 10 minutes later you want it to flip over, or self destruct, or ignite so that it will show up on an infrared or night-vision camera,” says Sailor. “What we’ve shown in this paper is that a small voltage can be used to ignite this chip, so you don’t need any sophisticated devices other than the tiny voltages you already have flowing through the electronic circuits of the chip. You just need to send them through the part of the chip that contains the blasting cap.”

Other possible security or military applications of this explosive might be the construction of information-collecting devices that self-destruct. “Let’s say you’ve built a secret electronic device that you don’t want someone to take apart or to find out how it works,” says Sailor. “You could build a self-destruct mechanism into the computer chip that would basically destroy it and any information that had been stored on it.”

What makes all of these futuristic applications plausible is that current manufacturing processes for computers could be easily adapted to produce such smart explosive or propulsion systems. “One of the things we’ve shown is that the construction of this explosive is compatible with conventional silicon fabrication techniques,” adds Sailor. “In other words, the same tools that right now can put transistors on a chip could be used to build a rocket motor using the same material, silicon, that forms the chip as the power source.”

Joseph D. Kirtland, an undergraduate from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., working in Sailor’s laboratory over the summer, also contributed to the study. The project was financed by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Tactical Sensors Program.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of California - San Diego. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of California - San Diego. "Computer Chips Found To Possess Explosive Properties Useful For Chemical Analysis And Nanoscale Sensors." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 January 2002. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/01/020110074039.htm>.
University Of California - San Diego. (2002, January 10). Computer Chips Found To Possess Explosive Properties Useful For Chemical Analysis And Nanoscale Sensors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/01/020110074039.htm
University Of California - San Diego. "Computer Chips Found To Possess Explosive Properties Useful For Chemical Analysis And Nanoscale Sensors." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/01/020110074039.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans

TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans

AP (July 24, 2014) TSA administrator, John Pistole's took part in the Aspen Security Forum 2014, where he answered questions on lifting of the ban on flights into Israel's Tel Aviv airport and whether politics played a role in lifting the ban. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

AP (July 24, 2014) Mobile phone companies and communities across the country are going to new lengths to disguise those unsightly cellphone towers. From a church bell tower to a flagpole, even a pencil, some towers are trying to make a point. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Algonquin Power Goes Activist on Its Target Gas Natural

Algonquin Power Goes Activist on Its Target Gas Natural

TheStreet (July 23, 2014) When The Deal's Amanda Levin exclusively reported that Gas Natural had been talking to potential suitors, the Ohio company responded with a flat denial, claiming its board had not talked to anyone about a possible sale. Lo and behold, Canadian utility Algonquin Power and Utilities not only had approached the company, but it did it three times. Its last offer was for $13 per share as Gas Natural's was trading at a 60-day moving average of about $12.50 per share. Now Algonquin, which has a 4.9% stake in Gas Natural, has taken its case to shareholders, calling on them to back its proposals or, possibly, a change in the target's board. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

AP (July 23, 2014) 'Ray' the robotic parking valet at Dusseldorf Airport in Germany lets travelers to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot before heading to the check-in desk. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins