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Ancient life form may help create newest technologies

PORTLAND Diatoms, a single-celled marine life form that has been around at least 100 million years, are being harnessed by researchers at Oregon State University to help make progress in one of the newest and most promising fields of science nanotechnology.

These ancient, microscopic organisms are found in the fossil record as far back as the time of the dinosaurs and, as a major component of phytoplankton, are an important basis for much ocean life. But they may also be the key to a more efficient, less costly way to produce some of the most advanced high tech materials in the world, scientists say.

Progress in this research is being presented by a team of researchers at the Micro Nano Breakthrough Conference in Portland, Ore., sponsored by OSU and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The goal, experts say, is to find a better way to create oxide nanocomposite materials that incorporate elements such as germanium, a semiconductor material that has interesting properties that could be of value in optoelectronics, photonics, thin film displays, solar cells and a wide range of electronic devices. The building blocks of these materials are referred to as nanoparticles because they are extraordinarily small clusters of several hundred molecules less than 100 nanometers in size - compared to a human hair that is 20,000 nanometers wide.

"Procedures exist to produce germanium nanocomposites, but they are fairly inefficient, difficult to control and expensive," said Gregory Rorrer, an associate professor of chemical engineering at OSU. Rorrer is an expert in marine biotechnology, so as an alternative to the "high tech" way of producing germanium oxides, he turned to one of nature's most low-tech, but nonetheless intricate creations the diatom.

"Diatoms are single-celled algae, and they are the dominant photosynthetic part of marine phytoplankton," Rorrer said. "Of course, as a basis for the marine food chain, they are extremely import
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Contact: Greg Rorrer
gregory.rorrer@orst.edu
541-737-3370
Oregon State University
30-Jul-2004


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