Wild new computing chip could connect to your body via Silk

Rebecca Hills-Duty
ai generated image of silk coming out of a processor

New frontiers for wearable and health tech as Tufts University Silklab develops a new type of transistor that uses biological silk.

We have already heard that some engineering companies are working on integrating diamonds into microprocessors, but one university research lab is going in a different direction by integrating biological silk into transistors.

This new technology could open up entirely frontiers for biotech, including medical monitoring and learning machines.

Transistors are the most basic part of a computer chip, and there are billions of them packed into devices such as CPUs and GPUs. Traditionally, transistors – and therefore chips – are made of silicon, combined with small amounts of metals such as copper and gold as well as rarer metals.

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It is a collection of transistors working together that allows a microprocessor chip to perform its many functions. Obviously, the materials that make up the transistors are inorganic, since silicon is basically just melted-down purified sand.

Hybrid sensors to detect heart and lung issues

The team at Tufts University Silklab decided to experiment with organic materials in transistors and created transistors that used biological silk as an insulating material.

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The substance used is called silk fibroin can be applied extremely precisely even at the microscopic level needed by transistors these fibers are capable of detecting a range of changes and variables in the environment – or even in the body.

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processor backPexels/Sergei Starostin

A proof-of-concept prototype of the technology created by the team at Tufts University Silklab used hybrid silk transistors to build a highly sensitive breath sensor that could accurately detect changes in humidity.

The team thinks that further development of this technology could have big implications for the future of health tech, including devices to detect cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases or conditions such as sleep apnea.

Head of Silklab Fiorenzo Omenetto, the Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering hopes that the technology can go mainstream, with ambitions to have these hybrid chips fabricated in the same way that commercial CPUs are now, saying:

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“This opens up a new way of thinking about the interface between electronics and biology, with many important fundamental discoveries and applications ahead.”

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About The Author

Rebecca is a Tech Writer at Dexerto, specializing in PC components, VR, AMD, Nvidia and Intel. She has previously written for UploadVR and The Escapist, hosts a weekly show on RadioSEGA and has an obsession with retro gaming. Get in touch at rebecca.hillsduty@dexerto.com