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Microscopic sea creatures provide foundation for gas sensors and other devices

gnesium oxide, which makes up about two-thirds of the composite, was then dissolved out by a hydrochloric acid solution, which left a highly porous silicon structure that retained the original shape. The structure was then treated with hydrofluoric acid (HF) to remove traces of silica created by reaction with the water in the hydrochloric acid solution.

The researchers then connected individual diatom-derived silicon structures to electrodes, applied current and used them to detect nitric oxide. The highly porous silicon shells, which are about 10 micrometers in length, could also be used to immobilize enzymes for purifying drugs in high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and as improved electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.

"Silicon can form compounds that have a high lithium content," Sandhage said. "Because diatom-derived silicon structures have a high surface area and are thin walled and highly porous, the rate at which you can get lithium ions into and out of such silicon structures can be high. For a given battery size, you could store more power, use it more rapidly or recharge the battery faster by using such structures as electrodes."

In testing, the researchers showed that the silicon they produced was photoluminescent meaning it glows when illuminated by certain wavelengths of light. That shows the fabrication process produced a nanoporous, nanocrystalline structure and may have interesting photonic applications in addition to the electronic ones.

Though Sandhage and his collaborators have demonstrated the potential of their technique, significant challenges must be overcome before they can produce useful sensors, battery electrodes and other structures. The sensors will have to be packaged into useful devices, for example, connected into arrays of devices able to detect different gases and scaled up for volume manufacture.

The Aulacoseira diatoms used in the research reported by Nature were m
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Contact: John Toon
jtoon@gatech.edu
404-894-6986
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
8-Mar-2007


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