In the 1960s, most computers took up an entire room. Faster computers now find themselves on the wrists of people all over the world.
As devices get smaller, humanity seems to be on track to create the sorts of machines that physicist Richard Feynman predicted in his 1959 talk, “Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” Feynman discussed the two main outcomes of technological progression: the miniaturization of information and ultimately, the miniaturization of machines. In order to get a step closer to achieving the second goal, researcher Marc Miskin developed a method for creating machines the size of human cells by taking inspiration from the Japanese art of origami.
Just like folding origami to create various complex shapes, these machines are capable of folding in on themselves to reproduce many simple shapes. To get a sense of just how small these devices are, about 100 million of these fit on a four inch wafer.
The material used to make this “origami machine” would have to have three properties: high flexibility, the ability to produce large force outputs and be electrically conductive. Miskin and his colleagues utilized graphene, a material made of carbon that is only one atom thick.
“Graphene is the stiffest, most flexible, most conductive material known to man. It was a natural choice,” Miskin said.
The team started with a layer of graphene and fused it with an equally thin layer of glass, making a complex that was about 20 atoms across. Though flat when added to water, the glass layer attempts to flex when exposed to acid but is prevented from doing so by the graphene layer. Cutting out a small strip of graphene though allows the glass to act as a hinge, causing the machine to fold in on itself.
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Source: The Cornell Daily Sun