London, June 12 : British researchers have come up with a new design that may give rise to the world's smallest printer, and even shrink computer memory.
Colin Lambert of Lancaster University says that his idea is to make the 'electron turbine' quite similar to a wind turbine, with the help of carbon nanotubes.
He says that it may be possible by creating a simple microscopic motor by slotting three nanotubes together, and hooking them to an electric current. The researcher says that this design would give rise to a turbine that would spin in a current of electrons in the same way as a wind turbine does in a breeze.
The researcher says that all that would be required to make such an electron turbine is to suspend a 10 nanometres long and one nanometre wide carbon tube between two others in such a manner that their ends form a rotating joint.
Lambert says that, when a direct current is passed along the tubes, the central one spins around.
The Lancaster researchers, whose design is one of the simplest yet, are confident that the electron 'wind' can overcome any friction forces that would prevent the middle tube spinning.
They also hope to minimise friction at the joints by making the nanotubes as smooth as possible.
According to them, such a motor can be used to pump atoms and molecules through the spinning middle tube.
Lambert says that multiple pumps could precisely control a chemical reaction, driving atoms in a pattern to engineer new molecules.
"It's like a nanoscale inkjet printer," he says.
He adds that atoms pumped through the motor may also help represent digital data, with an array of motors shuttling atoms between the 1 and 0 ends of the middle tube to store or process information.
If realised, this method may store data in a space about 10 times smaller than the present-day state-of-the-art commercial systems, says Lambert.
So far, he has tested this design using advanced computer simulations.
Adrian Bachtold, an expert at the Catalan Institute for Nanotechnology, believes that building a real electron turbine should be straightforward.
"The work of Lambert's group is exciting, the proposed motors should be rather straightforward to fabricate," says Bachtold.
He, however, insists that only after experiments the actual viability of the new nanomotor design could be determined.
A research article on the electron windmills will be published in Physical Review Letters this month. A pre-review version is available on the arXiv pre-print website.