I had posted something here about using diatoms in micromachines three or so years ago but, WorldChanging has pointed me to an update on using diatom shells as parts in microelectromechanical systems. Apparently empty diatom shells can be “doped” in a manner similar to semiconductors. It is now possible to chemically alter diatom shells to change their electrical properties, thermal stability and biocompatibility without changing their shape. There are at least two advantages to this;
- Diatoms grow the shells cheaply. Building similar structures with conventional photolithography would be very expensive. Millions of tiny nozzles, reaction vessels and such could be useful parts to add to micromachines.
- We could tweak the genes or otherwise influence them as they are growing the shells to make the shells grow in shapes useful to us–little hinged boxes or even couplings that can be snapped together perhaps.
Anyway, according to what I’ve read on the Web, patents are now being applied to these clever hacks so, apparently someone thinks it’s useful.