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What's DNA got to do with computer chips?

DNA structures could be integrated into microelectronics

So far, silicon-based microelectronics components have been scaled down. The down-scaling of silicon-based microelectronics has almost reached physical boundaries so that further down-sizing is no longer possible. Additionally, it is difficult to integrate innovative materials with novel functions.

Therefore, alternative technologies are necessary, in order to complement existing system or to partially replace them. A rather unconventional approach utilises nanostructures made from deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that enable targeted arrangement of functional materials and nanoparticles. Electronic, nanophotonic and optoelectronic components are created from these nanostructures.

DNA is not only the genetic substance of all living organisms but also a unique building material. From it, structures in the nanometre range of virtually any shape can by synthesised such as rectangles, tubes or even smileys. These structures are several thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. This is made possible, since the unique DNA sequences permit precise, preprogrammed molecular interactions. Therefore, they are also referred to as self-assembling structures. This self-organisation is very cost-effective and takes place billions of times in a drop of water, without the need for highly specialised manufacturing facilities such as cleanrooms.

At the Center for Advancing Electronics Dresden (cfaed), scientists investigate such so-called Biomolecular-Assembled Circuits (BAC). These shall enable the production of components for microelectronics with a great diversity of materials and functions. Using metallic nanoparticles for optical waveguides and antennas, the cfaed team has already demonstrated how the arrangement of components with nanometre precision could work.