Turning science into technology

Paritosh Karnata, Apr 12, 2016, DHNS Apr 11 2016, 23:42 IST

The new technique, called 'electrolithography’, uses a sharp metal tip to bombard electrons onto a metal. This 'electron wind’ melts the metal underneath through a chemical reaction and also causes it to flow writing circuits at the nanoscale. This works at a fraction of the cost incurred by the existing methods - this is because the new technique does not require high vacuum or expensive electronics. "The methods used in the industry to write nano-scale circuits require extensive instrumentation to set up and operate. Electrolithography, on the other hand, could even be a table-top setup. We have come up with a brand new technology and eventually a production tool,” says the team.

Speakers inspired by insects
Most of us have heard the loud chirping songs of the field crickets, but not many of us may have seen the tiny insect that produces that sound. Their chirping is extremely loud for their body size, and this has intrigued researchers and enthusiasts alike. Also, their chirping is so methodical that counting it can be used to determine the environmental temperature. Recently, a group of researchers from IISc discovered how male crickets produce the chirping sound - the insects do not have a vocal cord, but they produce sound mechanically by rubbing their wings together.

The cricket’s wings contain a file that has a set of teeth and a plectrum. When the wings are rubbed together the plectrum plucks the teeth in the file to produce the high-pitched chirping. This sound is then amplified by a harp like structure on the wings. The arrangement of the set of teeth looks incredible in an image that is a thousand times zoomed.

Inspired and challenged by nature’s efficient design, Prof Rudra’s team decided to mimic nature. Based on accurate computer models, they built an artificial cricket that sounds like a real cricket, but doesn’t look like the real one.

This may have a significant impact on the audio technology, as we still use an age-old method for sound generation - oscillating coil inside a big magnet. This works, but it’s hard to produce small, yet powerful speakers using this technology. The new device, taking shape in IISc, when fully realised, would achieve the same sound intensity with a much smaller size and could be integrated into a mobile, just like any regular chip.

By exploiting its expertise and experience in studying the vibrational properties of minute devices that are usually made of silicon, the team is experimenting with muscular tissues and a few electronic circuits to detect the signs of myopathy. Myopathy is a muscular condition in which the muscle fibres do not function, resulting in muscular weakness. The team has discovered that the vibration signatures of healthy and abnormal muscular cells are different, which allows the detection of myopathy in muscular tissue.

Device to detect diabetes
In 2000, according to the World Health Organisation, more than 31 million Indians were diagnosed with diabetes, and the number is expected to cross 79 million by 2030. For diabetes, like for many other diseases, early diagnosis and proper management is the key. Navakanta Bhat, professor, Centre for Nano Science and Engineering at IISc and his group have created a diabetes sensor and the work has already been integrated into a handheld device by a startup called PathShodh.

The efforts to translate science into technology require experts from different fields to work in unison. The final impact of these efforts will depend on many more factors such as the business and financial aspects of the ventures. Meanwhile, the Centre for Nanoscience and Engineering that was established in 2010, with a mandate to pursue interdisciplinary research on the nanoscale, already seems to be making a difference to both science and technology in India.

(The author is with Gubbi Labs, a Bengaluru-based research collective)