Magnetic Bacteria To Build Computers of the Future

Doctors and aeronauts are old story; the latest involves hardcore microchip manufacturers turning to nature for inspiration. They are looking towards magnetic bacteria for the manufacture of the smallest chips. Magnet making bacteria is the next big thing.

The Magnetic bacteria (Photo Courtesy: University of Leeds)

Microbe with a magnetic personality

A team comprising researchers from the University of Leeds and Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology have been studying microbes that ingest iron, becoming magnetic in the process.

The attractive personality belongs to Magnetospirillum magneticum, a predominantly anaerobic bacterium living at bottoms of ponds or lakes. There, instead of oxygen, which is scarce, they derive their energy from ingesting iron and then making magnetite, the most magnetic mineral that occurs naturally. Furthermore, the bacteria follow the Earth’s magnetic field lines, just like a compass.

The Magnetospirillum magneticum

The idea is this – you can direct the bacteria by changing the local magnetic field lines. Using this, you can grow magnets of very specific shapes by arranging the magnetic bacteria in specific shapes.

All for Moore’s Law

In a bid to keep Moore’s law alive in microchips, scientists are thinking of building upon this simple idea and create hard drives and even wires using these critters. Today’s nanotechnology is still having trouble coping with the pace at which Moore’s law would like it to attain, despite the breakneck speed.

Lead researcher Dr. Sarah Staniland of Leeds University says:

We are quickly reaching the limits of traditional electronic manufacturing as computer components get smaller. The machines we have traditionally used to build them with are clumsy at such small scales.

The pioneering study appears in the Nanotechnology journal Small.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.