Chemicals from Sea Squirt could make smaller, greener computer chips
13 September 2012
Scientists from the University of Aberdeen’s Marine
Biodiscovery Centre and the University of St Andrews have developed a
method to make components of a new type of computer chip using organic
chemicals from a sea squirt. The
findings were presented at the British Science Festival 2012, held in
Aberdeen last week.
Their research — which is the first of its kind in the world —
could lead to the development of a computer which is greener to
produce, processes information faster and is more compact in size.
Professor Marcel Jaspars, Professor of Organic Chemistry at the
University of Aberdeen and Director of the institution’s Marine
Biodiscovery Centre said: “Computer chips are currently made
of a series of transistors made of silicon. Though made from a
natural resource — sand — a vast number of silicon atoms are
required to make one single transistor and in addition a lot of
energy is used in the development of this type of transistor.
“This project is looking at a greener, more sustainable
alternative — making transistors from single molecules sourced from
nature. It is a global first — we are the only group of scientists
to be working towards making this potential breakthrough in
computing technology using sponges from the deep. Specifically focus
is on the molecule patellamide, originally discovered from the
seasquirt Lissoclinum patella found in the Great Barrier Reef.”
The seasquirt Lissoclinum patella
Scientists working on the project have achieved a process for
redesigning and producing these molecules to be used as computer
components. Their production uses clean and green biological
Professor Jaspars continued: “Developing a computer chip from
single molecules sourced from nature has a number of benefits. It is
greener to produce as we can essentially ‘grow’ the parts required
for the new ‘patellamide’ computer chip in a test tube meaning it
would be significantly more environmentally-friendly than creating
silicon computer parts.
“It would result in a smaller, more compact computer as the
computer chip would have an array of single patellamide molecules
meaning overall the computer chip would be more compact.
“The result would be a faster computer as using smaller
components means that they are closer together within the computer
chip meaning they transfer information between one another at a far
faster pace — essentially meaning the computer will operate more
This project is an example of the pioneering research being
conducted within the University’s Marine Biodiscovery Centre which
is harnessing the potential of unique marine organisms from the
depths of the world’s oceans. Scientists from the Centre are also
exploring the potential of natural resources from our seas to create
new pharmaceuticals for the treatment of diseases such as cancer.
Professor Jaspars said: “Nature is the source of a number of
beautifully engineered and efficient molecular machines which are
being tapped for their potential use in molecular nanotechnology.
This project is just one strong example of the exploration of this
potential and the benefits it could have.”