Soup For Your Soul & Spinach For Your Lap

by CXOtoday Staff    Sep 21, 2004

Techno geeks from the world’s largest talent reactor, MIT, have discovered a secret behind the oldest trick in every grandma’s book (Remember the time that you were forced to eat veggies simply because greens were supposed to be “good” for you?).

No appetite for spinach sandwiches? No problem. Geeks know better than to let good things go in waste. For the first time, MIT researchers have incorporated a plant’s ability to convert sunlight to energy into a solid-state electronic “spinach sandwich” device that may one day power laptops and cell phones.

Plants’ ability to generate energy has been optimized by evolution, so a spinach plant is extremely efficient, churning out a lot of energy relative to its size and weight. But combining biological and non-biological materials in one device has stymied researchers in the past. Biological materials need water and salt to survive—both are deadly for electronics.

The device is a basically a protein complex dubbed Photosystem I (PSI). Derived from spinach chloroplasts, PSI is 10 to 20 nanometers wide. The head of a pin is capable of holding around 100,000 of these. “They are the smallest electronic circuits I know of,” said researcher Marc A. Baldo, assistant professor of electronic engineering and computer science at MIT.

“We have crossed the first hurdle of successfully integrating a photosynthetic protein molecular complex with a solid-state electronic device,” Baldo said.

The researchers hope to achieve a power conversion efficiency of 20 percent or more (which would provide an extremely efficient power source) by creating multiple layers of PSI or assembling them on rough surfaces or 3-D surfaces, like skyscrapers that concentrate a huge amount of surface area within a relatively small space.
Patrick J. Kiley of MIT also worked on this research, which is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Science Foundation.

Tags: Chips, green