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Published on November 16th, 2010 | by Tina Casey


Etch-A-Sketch Inspires Photonics Breakthrough

November 16th, 2010 by  

University of Pittsburgh research base new technology on Etch a SketchIt’s just a wisp of a childhood memory to millions, but to one scientist at the University of Pittsburgh the venerable Etch A Sketch has provided the inspiration for a major breakthrough in next-generation phontonics design. Jeremy Levy, a professor of physics and astronomy, drew on the basic principles behind the toy drawing board to manufacture a nanoscale device that can sculpt tiny memory devices and transistors…but first, you may ask, what is photonics?

Electronics and Photonics

Here at CleanTechnica we’ve covered the impact of nanotechnology and emerging new materials like graphene on the electronics industry; the gist of it is that the next generation of electronics will be faster, smaller, and more efficient, which in turn conserves energy and resources. The same could be said of new advances in photonics, which is sort of like electronics except that instead of getting electrons (electricity) to do the work, you use photons (light). Think laser beams, laser printing, and fiber optics, and you’re on the right track.

Etch A Sketch and Photonics

As reported by Morgan Kelly at Pitt, Levy’s team used the Etch A Sketch-inspired equipment to manufacture a photonic device less than 4 nanometers wide. A device at that scale could achieve controlled interaction with single molecules, which opens the door to a new generation of hyper-tiny instruments. The team was also able to design the device with a built-in electrical “tuner,” which could eliminate the need for add-on light filters.

Toys and Nanotechnology

If you’re still thinking that the Etch A Sketch connection was dreamed up by Pitt’s PR department, consider the case of ShrinkNano Technologies. This start-up’s signature product is a nanoscale diagnostic chip, which is manufactured through a process based on the technology behind – yep, you guessed it – Shrinky Dinks


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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