Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Bubble Logic and Artificial Viruses

Each day during the APS meeting, we arrange for a few of the meeting attendees to give special press conferences. The topics of the conferences represent just a few of the 7000 or so papers presented through the week.

One of the coolest presentations I was able to catch today was a look at bubble-based devices that perform many of the functions common in microelectronic circuits. Manu Prakash, a graduate student from MIT showed how they have built channels that control the flow of bubbles in a fluid stream. The bubbles interact to create analogs of transistors, electronic flip flops, oscillators, and just about any electronic component you can name. The ultimate goal of the research will someday be bubble-based CPUs and memory.

Bubble logic is much slower than conventional electrical logic, so why would anyone want such a thing? Because the bubbles can carry chemicals, biological samples, and other tiny payloads. A bubble logic device could be programmed to perform complex tasks in lab-on-a-chip systems for testing and analyzing chemicals and biological samples. Instead of building specialized devices, a researcher could buy a bubble CPU and memory, and program them to suit any analysis application (monitoring for toxins, manipulating DNA, etc.)

Bogdan Dragnea of Indiana University is doing equally cool stuff - he's making artificial viruses that lack the dangerous genetic core of living viruses, but look just like the real thing to your immune system. Someday soon, Bogdan and his colleagues may replace the vaccines we currently use, which are made from viruses, with completely artificial versions. The advantage is that there would be none of the risk associated with live-virus vaccines, which can cause occasionally cause the diseases they are intended to prevent.

There were several other fascinating press conferences today, but it's getting late so I'll tell you about those tomorrow.

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