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Single-celled plankton that have been duped into doping their silica-based shells with germanium can be incorporated into semiconductor chips and made to glow. Gregory Rorrer of Oregon State University in Corvallis and his colleagues report that the siliceous shells from diatoms (Pinnularia sp., pictured) that were grown for some of their lives in a germanium-rich solution can be incorporated into the devices. On application of an electric field, the shells emit light.
The researchers found resonant frequencies in these emissions that they explain by the geometry of the shells’ latticework of pores. They hope that further combinations of semiconductor technology and biologically produced nanostructures may yield novel devices.