Machine Design

Making tiny music

A nanoguitar from Cornell University is a demonstration vehicle for ways of making submicroscopic mechanical devices using techniques designed for building microelectronics.

The nanoguitar is modeled after the Gibson Flying V guitar.

The strings of the nanoguitar are silicon bars, 150 X 200 nm in cross section and ranging from 6 to 12 mm in length. The strings vibrate at frequencies 17 octaves higher than those of a real guitar. The device is "played" by hitting the strings with a focused laser beam. Vibrating strings create interference patterns in the light reflected back. The detected patterns are electronically converted to audible notes.

The ability to make tiny things vibrate at high frequencies opens the door for many potential electronics applications. For example, cell phones and other wireless devices use the oscillations of a quartz crystal to generate the carrier wave on which they transmit or to tune in incoming signals. A tiny vibrating nanorod could do the same job in less space while drawing only milliwatts of power. Supersharp filtering is another possibility. They may also detect vibrations to help locate objects or detect faint sounds to predict machinery or structure failure.

Because nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) can modulate light, they might make fiber-optic communications less expensive. Instead of using a laser at each end of a fiber-optic cable, a powerful laser at one end could send a beam that would be modulated and reflected back by a less expensive NEMS device.

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