What Is This? A Radio for Ants?

A group of mechanical engineers at Columbia University have produced the world's tiniest FM radio transmitter. At its heart is a micrometer-sized oscillator powered by one-atom-thick graphene. But more than serving as a lilliputian proof of concept for tiny broadcasting equipment, this could help revolutionize smartphones and other gadgets.

The research, published this week in Nature Nanotechnology, centers on a tiny oscillator that uses graphene in the place of traditional quartz crystals; this enables a level of miniaturization that would be impossible with conventional materials. The prototype device broadcast at 100MHz — that's 100.0 on your FM dial — and they even used it to transmit music from an iPhone to a regular old-fashioned radio.

While the world's smallest radio station sounds cool on its own, the possibility of a functional nano-sized electromechanical system could revolutionize wireless communications. Current radio signal generators have proven difficult to miniaturize, and their space and power demands are a huge headache for designers trying to slim down devices. Plus, graphene's stretchable, resilient, and highly conductive nature makes for a transmitter that can be tuned over a wider range of frequencies, meaning one nano-transmitter could replace multiple conventional components.

The research team's next step is to integrate the graphene-based device into a silicon chip, making it possible to tuck a transmitter onto the data-handling boards that already live inside your phone or laptop. Just don't use it to transmit brainwashing videos to airhead male models. [Nature Nanotechnology via Futurity]