semiconductor technology

Flexible and biodegradable semiconductor for electronics

Credit: Bao lab

A new semiconductor developed by researchers at Stanford University, USA, is as flexible as skin and easily degradable and is hoped to tackle electronic waste.

The team developed a semiconductor polymer that can decompose by adding a weak acid-based vinegar, a degradable electronic circuit and a biodegradable substrate material for mounting the electrical components. This substrate supports the electrical components, flexing and molding to rough and smooth surfaces. When the electronic device is no longer needed it can biodegrade into non-toxic components.

The substrate carries the electronic circuit and the polymer from cellulose fibres to make the material transparent and flexible, while still breaking down easily. The thin film substrate allows the electronics to be worn on the skin or implanted inside the body.

The electronic device could be used in wearable electronics and large-scale environmental surveys with sensor dusts. ‘We envision these soft patches that are very thin and conformable to the skin can measure blood pressure, glucose value, sweat content. A person could wear a specifically designed patch for a day or week, then download the data. According to Bao, this short-term use of disposable electronics seems a perfect fit for a degradable, flexible design,’ said Stanford engineer Zhenan Bao. 

Although the polymer was found to be biocompatible, Bao said that more studies would need to be done before these implants are used.


The Silicon Integrated Circuit (IC); as we know it, was patented by Fairchild Semiconductor’s Robert Noyce; who received the first patent for a commercially available silicon IC on the 25th of April 1961.

7 Things You Didn’t Know Came from NASA Technology

Every  year, we publish a round-up of 50 or so NASA innovations that can also be found  in our daily  lives here on Earth.

We call them spinoffs — technologies spun off from America’s space program — and this week the 2017 edition was published.  Here are some of our favorite things we bet you didn’t know use space technology.

1.Crash Test Cameras 

Parachutes are a key part of the landing system for many of our spacecraft, but before we send them into orbit — or beyond — we have to make sure that they’re going to work as designed. One important component of testing is a video that captures every millisecond as the chute opens, to see if it’s working and if not, what went wrong. 

Integrated Design Tools built a camera for us that could do just that: rugged and compact, it can film up to 1,000 frames per second and back up all that data almost as fast.  Now that same technology is being used to record crash tests, helping ensure that we’re all safer on the roads.


We often use laser-imaging technology, or lidar, on missions in outer space. Thanks to lidar, snow was discovered on Mars, and the technology will soon help us collect a sample from an asteroid to bring home to Earth. 

To do all that, we’ve helped make smaller, more rugged, and more powerful lidar devices, which have proven useful here on Earth in a lot of ways, including for archaeologists. Lidar scans can strip away the trees and bushes to show the bare earth—offering clues to help find bones, fossils, and human artifacts hidden beneath the surface. 

3.Golf Clubs 

A screw is a screw, right? Or is it?  

When we were building the Space Shuttle, we needed a screw that wouldn’t loosen during the intense vibrations of launch. An advanced screw threading called Spiralock, invented by the Holmes Tool Company and extensively tested at Goddard Space Flight Center, was the answer.  

Now it’s being used in golf clubs, too. Cobra Puma Golf built a new driver with a spaceport door (designed to model the International Space Station observatory) that allows the final weight to be precisely calibrated by inserting a tungsten weight before the door is screwed on.  

And to ensure that spaceport door doesn’t pop off, Cobra Puma Golf turned to the high-tech threading that had served the Space Shuttle so well. 

4.Brain Surgery 

Neurosurgery tools need to be as precise as possible.

One important tool, bipolar forceps, uses electricity to cut and cauterize tissue. But electricity produces waste heat, and to avoid singeing healthy brain tissue, Thermacore Inc. used a technology we’ve been relying on since the early days of spaceflight: heat pipes.  The company, which built its expertise in part through work it has done for us over more than 30 years, created a mini heat pipe for bipolar forceps.  

The result means surgery is done more quickly, precisely — and most importantly, more safely.

5.Earthquake Protection 

The Ares 1 rocket, originally designed to launch crewed missions to the moon and ultimately Mars, had a dangerous vibration problem, and the usual solutions were way too bulky to work on a launch vehicle.  

Our engineers came up with a brand new technology that used the liquid fuel already in the rocket to get rid of the vibrations. And, it turns out, it works just as well with any liquid—and not just on rockets.  

An adapted version is already installed on a building in Brooklyn and could soon be keeping skyscrapers and bridges from being destroyed during earthquakes. 


When excess fertilizer washes away into ground water it’s called nutrient runoff, and it’s a big problem for the environment. It’s also a problem for farmers, who are paying for fertilizer the plant never uses. 

Ed Rosenthal, founder of a fertilizer company called Florikan, had an idea to fix both problems at once: coating the fertilizer in special polymers to control how quickly the nutrient dissolves in water, so the plant gets just the right amount at just the right time.  

Our researchers helped him perfect the formula, and the award-winning fertilizer is now used around the world — and in space. 

7. Cell Phone Cameras  

The sensor that records your selfies was originally designed for something very different: space photography.  

Eric Fossum, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, invented it in the 1990s, using technology called complementary metal-oxide semiconductors, or CMOS. The technology had been used for decades in computers, but Fossum was the first person to successfully adapt it for taking pictures. 

As a bonus, he was able to integrate all the other electronics a camera needs onto the same computer chip, resulting in an ultra-compact, energy-efficient, and very reliable imager. Perfect for sending to Mars or, you know, snapping a pic of your meal. 

To learn about NASA spinoffs, visit:                                        

A World Beyond Silicon

by Michael Keller

Our world is now awash in data—as you read this, computers and sensors in your pocket, your home, the automobile outside and the power plant down the street are all generating reams of information.

Analysts say we’re just at the beginning of our ubiquitous-computing society. Our not-too-distant future will see an explosion of data production, from connected jet engines that create and share data about how they’re performing to wearable technologies that monitor your vital signs to tell you how well your body is performing.

Sensors and processors have already started to mediate a majority of elements that comprise the human experience from birth to death. Meanwhile, the infrastructure undergirding civilization is slowly becoming embedded with electronics while we navigate our social and working life with data-generating laptops, smartphones, apps and entertainment systems.

“Today, we have a humongous amount of data coming from video, text, graphics,” said Stanford University electrical engineer H.-S. Philip Wong during a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. “These are being processed in data centers but also on our bodies in electronics that have different requirements from traditional computers. And soon we’re going to have even more data needing processing from a trillion sensors that will be produced every day.”

Wong says this demand for a range of processors that can fit all the places where people will want to put them means we need to start thinking beyond silicon.

Keep reading

World’s First Digital Camera (1975): Created by Kodak’s engineer Steve Sasson

In December 1975, Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented something that would, decades later, revolutionize photography: the world’s first digital camera. It was the size of a toaster, and captured black and white images at a resolution of 100×100 - or 0.01 megapixels in today’s marketing terminology. The images were stored on cassette tape, taking 23 seconds to write. The camera uses an ADC from Motorola, a bog-standard (for the 1970s) lens from a Kodak movie camera, and a CCD chip from Fairchild Semiconductor - the same technology that digital cameras still use today. To playback the images, a special computer and tape reader setup (pictured below) was built, outputting the grainy images on a standard TV. It took a further 23 seconds to read each image from tape.

New Technology Could Boost Solar Cell Efficiency By 30 Percent

by Ker Than, Inside Science

Scientists looking to boost the efficiency of solar panels are taking a fresh look at an exotic physics phenomenon first observed nearly 50 years ago in glowing crystals.

Called singlet fission, the process can enable a single photon of light to generate two electrons instead of just one. This one-to-two conversion, as the process is known, has the potential to boost solar cell efficiency by as much as 30 percent above current levels, according to a new review paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

Singlet fission “was originally proposed to explain some weird results that were observed in fluorescent organic crystals,” said the study’s first author Christopher Bardeen, a chemist at the University of California, Riverside. “It received a lot of attention in the 1960s and 1970s, but then it was mostly forgotten.”

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Silicon Carbide (SiC) is a key building block for next-generation devices. It takes features from diamonds, one of the toughest materials in the world, and combines them with features of silicon, our ubiquitous semiconductor technology in electronics to make a very new kind of material for power electronics. SiC can more efficiently handle higher voltage and three times the amount of energy compared to silicon chips, allowing us to run everything from locomotives to planes and wind farms faster and more efficiently.