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Toys Science

Single Nanotube Becomes World's Smallest Radio 152

Invisible Pink Unicorn writes "Researchers at the National Science Foundation have utilized a single carbon nanotube to perform all the functions of a standard radio, acting as an antenna, tunable filter, amplifier, and demodulator. They were then able to tune in a radio signal generated in the room and play it back through an attached speaker. The device is functional across a bandwidth widely used for commercial radio. From the NSF: 'The source content for the first laboratory test of the radio was "Layla," by Derek and the Dominos, followed soon after by "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys.'"
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Single Nanotube Becomes World's Smallest Radio

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  • The Apple iTube. Don't buy just one, buy the whole series.
  • Commercials (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    When a single nanotube can cut out the commercials on my FM radio- THATS when I will get excited.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by heinousjay ( 683506 )
      Yes, you not only want the entertainment for free, you want the distributer to pay for the privilege of getting it to your ears. That's a wonderful business idea, I'm sure someone will take that up immediately.
      • Re:Commercials (Score:4, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:48PM (#21199549) Journal

        Yes, you not only want the entertainment for free, you want the distributer to pay for the privilege of getting it to your ears
        Please excuse me if I have a little trouble working up any sympathy for those poor, downtrodden advertisers.

        I don't mind hearing advertising with my music, but nearly 20 minutes per hour (as during drive time) is a little excessive, don't you think? I'm not prepared to start having bake sales for industries that got so greedy that it has driven them to near extinction.

        I'm pretty sick of corporations, whole industries, that believed they could treat their customers badly while attempting to drive every possible penny into their pockets, then start crying and whining when something better comes along and those customers turn their backs. It does seem, though, that killing the golden goose through greed is a defining characteristic of all corporations in this age of slash and burn profitism.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by sedman ( 210394 )
          I hope you don't think you are the customer. The customer of a radio station is the advertiser. You are simply the product.

          Now get back on the shelf, like a good product, and try to look good for the customers.
        • by Dirtside ( 91468 )

          It does seem, though, that killing the golden goose through greed is a defining characteristic of all corporations in this age of slash and burn profitism.

          I hate to break it to you, but short-sightedness is basically the defining characteristic of all of human history.
        • If you want (almost) commercial-free radio, tune to Public Radio. I feel abused any time I tune to another station and have a 30% chance of stumbling into a commercial. Since there's a wide range of quality in Public Radio stations, I recommend KQED. Stay away from Public Radio on satellite - it sucks. Instead, listen on [].

          Another reason I like them: I can control how much I pay them. If I like them a lot, they get a lot. If they suck - well, they don't get a penny. Honestly, my time is f
          • You bet, Cowboy. PRI is my radio of choice, and I'm a dollar-a-day club member. It's still cheap by comparison, when I figure in all the hours I'd otherwise spend listening to commercials for "virility enhancers" and sub-prime mortgages (yes, they're still pushing them!).

            Here in the great city of Chicago, my station is WBEZ. I'm not crazy about the fact that they've recently switched from jazz overnights to international news (although the news from Russia is pretty funny), but at least I've got someone
        • I don't mind hearing advertising with my music

          Hell, at least your stations play music. On the occasions I actually go to work, my drive-time FM airwaves are filled with mind-numbing morning talk-show garbage.
      • by ajs318 ( 655362 )
        So here's a business opportunity: Sell digital radio sets that require a smart card, something like a telephone SIM, to decrypt scrambled programmes. Broadcast advert-free scrambled programmes, funded by the purchase of said decoder cards. You'll need a lot of capital, but advert-free is a novelty that doesn't wear off -- check out the BBC sometime.
  • Awesome! (Score:4, Funny)

    by butterwise ( 862336 ) <butterwise AT gmail> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:17PM (#21199085)
    At that scale, you can actually see the radio waves []...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by pwnies ( 1034518 )
      It is somewhat saddening that they have to put that disclaimer there that "The waves shown in this image were added for visual effect, and are not part of the original microscope image".
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by butterwise ( 862336 )
        It is almost more saddening that the waves are not going in the correct direction given the nanotube is a receiver, not a transmitter...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:47PM (#21201209)
      Reading more closely, we discover that:

      It's not really a complete radio...It's just a tiny tuning fork.
      Demos like these make me ask: what the hell happened to research in America?

      They left out the fact that they were using a specially tuned PWM transmitter... and a high powered one at that... to vibrate the .6 cm nanotube structure.

      They left out (as well) the fact that they were using another specially tuned receiver to detect the movement and turn it back into audio.

      They could have done the same thing with almost any material, including a grain of salt, a slice of stale pizza or a drop of water. This is essentially the same as attaching an earphone to a crystal, and then tuning the transmitter to the crystal and making it vibrate by hitting it with a high powered modulated wave. I guess it's cool that they got a huge nsf grant to recreate an incomplete crystal radio.

      Using an external process to convert the vibration back into audio is cool and all, but I wish I could win big grants for such elementary application of well-known processes. Hey, maybe I could bounce a laser-beam off the carbon nano-tube and call it a "secure" nano-communications device! Who wants to help me write the NSF research request?

      A rerun of the hype surrounding MIT's shocking rediscovery of tesla's magic coil trick.
      I predict an NSF funded rebirth of spark gap transmitters.
      • Your tuning fork analogy is valid, but you need to remember that it is a nanometer sized tuning fork that vibrates in response to EM waves, not sound waves, and serves as a field emitter. Good luck doing that with any other material. In addition, they were not using a "specially" tuned receiver to pick up the movement - the movement is detected through the resulting modulation of the Field Emission Current, which is especially sensitive to the location of the end of the nanotube. The only tuning involved
      • by himself ( 66589 )
        We need a new moderation tag, "-3 Killjoy." Damn you and your facts!!!!
  • We're they paying royalties to the RIAA? RIAA vs. NSF coming soon to a Federal Court near you.
  • the day mankind gave the gift of Howard Stern and American Top 40 and the traffic report to bacteria
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Soko ( 17987 )
      the day mankind gave the gift of Howard Stern and American Top 40 and the traffic report to bacteria


      Gift? That list sounds like we're trying to find a new way to kill them.

    • Nonono... Howard left terrestrial radio a looong time ago.

      I know you don't get Sirius in Your Mom's Basement(TM) but just toss it out the window, k?
      • Nonono... Howard left terrestrial radio a looong time ago.

        I know you don't get Sirius in Your Mom's Basement(TM) but just toss it out the window, k?

        Since he's already left terrestrial radio, how long till we can get him to permanently leave Terra? :)
    • Given how small bacteria are, they've probably been vibrating to our radio waves for the past 100+ years. And they've been mutating ever since to get away!


  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:17PM (#21199101) Homepage Journal

    We're gonna need a bigger tin-foil hat.

  • by pwnies ( 1034518 ) <> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:17PM (#21199103) Homepage Journal
    ...on people losing these things. "Damnit, where's my radio? Did I lose it again!? Oh wait here it is... no... that's pocket lint."
  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:18PM (#21199111)

    Returning to Zettl's runner analogy, the vibrating nanotube is akin to a ditch with a constantly changing width.

    I really do love the analogies we use to describe quantum-mechanical or relativistic behavior. Even the best ones start off comprehensible but rapidly morph into the deranged land of our most cheese-fuelled nightmares.
    • rapidly morph into the deranged land of our most cheese-fuelled nightmares

      Now *that's* an interesting phobia.

    • by eonlabs ( 921625 ) []

      There are always more ways to make it worse...

      If a single nanotube can act as a complete radio, and buckyballs exist in cells, could an
      organism evolve radios?

      Could it be possible for a new animal or plant to be able to listen in on the data sent via radio?

      or maybe a better question:
      how hard of a fall could it take before snapping?
  • by EvilSpudBoy ( 1159091 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:19PM (#21199133)
    Perfoming rights organizations, BMI and ASCAP, want a fee for every carbon nanotube sold.
    • will go to the figurehead artists, who put their name to some words and then drive their hybrid SUVs to their red carpet galas, leaving the poor, starving attorneys, accountants, and publicists to do the real work -- the licensing?

      It's time to make a stand. We at the firm of Leech, Suxxor & Scabb are taking up the cause of starving parasuits everywhere.

      We just want what's right.

      We just want what's fair.
  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn ( 1126837 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:19PM (#21199137)
    Their project page has videos, simulations, and audio playback samples: NSF Nanotube Radio []

    Here is their journal abstract []:

    "We have constructed a fully functional, fully integrated radio receiver from a single carbon nanotube. The nanotube serves simultaneously as all essential components of a radio: antenna, tunable band-pass filter, amplifier, and demodulator. A direct current voltage source, as supplied by a battery, powers the radio. Using carrier waves in the commercially relevant 40-400 MHz range and both frequency and amplitude modulation techniques, we demonstrate successful music and voice reception."
    • by kebes ( 861706 )
      Some details, from the scientific article, about how it functions:

      Amazingly, all four critical radio receiver components can be simultaneously implemented with a single carbon nanotube. ... the entire radio consists of an individual carbon nanotube mounted to an electrode in close proximity to a counter electrode. A direct current (dc) voltage source, such as from a battery, is connected to the electrodes and powers the radio. Important for the radio's operation, the applied dc bias negatively charges the t

      • by jdray ( 645332 )

        Mechanical vibrations of the nanotube modulate the field-emission current,[10] which then serves as the easily detected electrical signal.

        So, it's acting a lot like a stylus on a phonograph? Vinyl is back!

        Your suggestion that a nano-radio be enclosed in, essentially, a vacuum bottle, is interesting. Such a bottle would make a nice delivery package, helping to componentize the device for inclusion in larger constructs.

  • The radio is a single carbon nanotube, right?

    It must be real difficult reading the display (or dial) to see what station you're tuned in to!!!! ;)

    • The REAL problem is the batteries. Bacteria found out they can get high eating them. So all they want to do now is listen to music on their iNanoNano and breed.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    A nanotube version of the worlds smallest violin.
  • When the internet will be upped from normal tubes to nanotubes. Web 2.0 IS COMING!
  • I wonder (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    ...if these can be used in dentistry, as tooth fillings.
  • Who cares! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Funkcikle ( 630170 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:23PM (#21199211)
    No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame.
  • Now there will be great confusion about what "listening on radio over the Tubes" mean...
  • The transmitter is next. I can see it now. Dust the crowd with nano-tube transmitters and follow them around with the that Black Van.

    You know the Black Van that I mean, the one with the black tinted windows and a vanity plate on the front that says "Fearmobile".

    • Isn't that the van that the a-team made out of carbon nanotubes and some duct tape?
      • Isn't that the van that the a-team made out of carbon nanotubes and some duct tape?

        You're a bit mixed up.

        McGyver made a van out of carbon nanotubes and duct tape.

        The A-Team used carbon nanotubes and a welding torch.
    • or how about the replacement of metal interconnects in microprocessors with nanotube transmitter/reciever pairs!
  • Wait...they broadcast Layla and Good Vibrations and admitted it publicly? Expect to hear from RIAA lawyers soon...
  • by PHAEDRU5 ( 213667 ) <instascreed@gma i l . c om> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:26PM (#21199249) Homepage
    ....Inanimate Carbon Rod!

    I can't believe we've overlooked this week's winner for so very, very long.
  • ... I'm afraid "nano" is trademarked for audio devices ... please cease and desist in the use of this term in this connection ...
  • by freg ( 859413 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:34PM (#21199357)
    This is actually smaller than the iPod Zepto: []
  • so how big is the transmitter?
    • by crgrace ( 220738 )
      There is no nanotube transmitter. The length of the transmitting antenna must be on the order of the wavelength of the transmitted wave AND a large amount of power needs to be sent into the air.

      This article, of course, is a cool stunt... but it is still a stunt.

  • by chiph ( 523845 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:40PM (#21199443)
    So, do nano-scale carbon tubes sound better than transistors?
    Or, only if you use oxygen-free silver interconnects the size of a garden hose?

    Chip H.
    • by Alsee ( 515537 )
      oxygen-free silver interconnects the size of a garden hose?

      Only if you have a very small garden.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Not to go too far OT with this, but.. there is much more to the "tubes vs. transistors" thing, than the sonic performance of a given tube vs. a given transistor. This is one area where the /. membership is willfully ignorant..

      Spend a little time learning about the design differences between complete tube and transistor circuits, and you'll soon discover that tube circuits allow the designer to select passive components which offer greater sonic advantage than the passive components populating a typical tr

  • All hail the inanimate carbon rod^H^H^Hnanotube!
  • Going full circle (Score:4, Informative)

    by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @02:01PM (#21199737) Journal
    In the 19th century they had pocket watches. Then watches got small enough to strap on your wrist. Then we got cell phones, threw away our wristwatches and put the phone in a pocket.

    In the 19 century [] we had vacuum tubes. In the mid 20th century these were replaced by semiconductors, which were smaller and less bulky. Now we're back to tubes again, and the TFA sounds like these are kind of nano vacuum tubes, only without the vacuum.

    The nanotube radio is likely like these geek toys [] nerds have been building since the early 1900s. All you need to build one is a diode, some wire, a piece of wood, and headphones to listen to it with. They used to call these things "catwhisker radios", the "cat whisker" being the diode.

    -mcgrew []
    • the catwhisker part comes from the pre-diode designs, like this []. the catwhisker is the wire that connects to the detector crystal, which did form a diode

      i actually have such a thing at home that i made when i was 10, using a piece of iron pyrite as the detector.
    • Looking at it, I was thinking something similar. However, it's more akin to a single transistor radio than a simple crystal set. There's external power being provided, which is used for amplification. I'm willing to bet that the power leads are functioning more as the antenna than the nanotube is, especially at the frequencies they describe. They've essentially come up with a nanotube acting as a specialized transistor that resonates at specific frequencies and detects (demodulates) and amplifies the

  • by Prototerm ( 762512 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @02:17PM (#21199967)
    Several patent trolls have threatened to sue, claiming the work violates over 200 of their top-secret patents ("Just because the device functions on a quantum scale is not enough to avoid licensing costs" one source was quoted.) The trolls have claimed that research like this, if allowed to continue, will stifle true innovation by their exclusive licensees.
  • Yeah, but Sheriff John Brunell says that if you buy the HD carbon nanotube for a bit more, you can get extra stations between the stations!
  • "Single carbon nanotube, is there nothing that you can't do?"

  • "a single carbon nanotube to perform all the functions of a standard radio, acting as an antenna, tunable filter, amplifier, and demodulator.
    ...the damned presets are just too darn small for me to push.
  • by east coast ( 590680 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:09PM (#21200611)
    . --Radio

    (Shown larger than actual size)
  • At last, they no longer have an excuse for not including an FM radio in the iPod.
  • The source content for the first laboratory test of the radio was "Layla," by Derek and the Dominos, followed soon after by "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys.
    A few seconds after which, a SWAT team stormed the lab demanding royalty payments .....
  • From TFA: The new device works in a manner more similar to the vacuum tubes from the 1930s than the transistors found in modern radios.

    Great. Radios will also now be a system of tubes. :-)

    Seriously, the only problem seems to be that the radio only receives radio signals from the 1930s.

  • This single wire in my braces picks up Bob Rivers in the mornings! Must be tuned to 102.5 FM or something.
  • While the NSF [] may want credit, they are mainly a funding organization without any actual research staff. The work was done at the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems [], which is hosted by UC Berkeley. The work was done by people at UCB and LBNL.

    A great job of PR! Hopefully, there is really something to it. At the moment, it seems that they have set up a million dollars of high vacuum cryo equipment (I'm guessing) and transmitted audio from one side of the room to the other. You can "rent" web a

  • A radio built at a scale appropriate to the amount of worthwhile content on the airwaves.
  • There was a paper on the same subject, which was published online by the same journal a few weeks beforehand...

    Looking at the dates detailed in the paper from Peter Burke's group [], you can see that it was submitted in June and finished in September, while the paper from Alex Zettl's group [] was submitted in August and finished in October. Yet... neither of the articles has actually been published yet (they're both available online as pre-prints), and the press release only mentions the second paper.


  • Officials are quoted as saying the miniaturized RF technology would allow manufactures to finally progress from making cell phones to making mitochondria phones.
  • So, has the RIAA filed a copyright infringement lawsuit yet?
  • was followed by "Every Breath You Take" by The Police.... "Every step you take ... I'll be watching you..."
  • ... a bass speaker capable of rattling the windows on the car next to me?
  • I want a model with 9 or 12 or 15 nanotubes, with the number of nanotubes prominently inscribed on the front of the unit. Something you could hold in your hand, with an earphone, something you could take to the ballgame.
  • Now we know the answer to Fermi's Paradox, or why we're not being bombarded with radio waves from civilizations more advanced then us:

    The researchers believe it would be easy to produce such nanotube radios for receiving signals in the 40-400 megahertz range, a range within which most FM radio broadcasts fall.


    Adds Bruce Kramer, "The application of a fully functioning radio receiver less than 50 millionths of an inch in length and one millionth of an inch in diameter potentially allows the radio control of almost anything, from a single receiver in a living cell to a vast array embedded in an airplane wing."

    It appears that high-powered radio waves are banned in advanced civilizations because they are used for ultra-short-range communications. The question to ask is how long will it be until an advanced civilization comes to us and tells us to "shut the fsck up" because our radio waves are too d@mn loud.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford