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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Technology Note/Chicken Chips

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on research into using chicken feathers as the base material for computer chips.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, designing fishing nets that let a lot of them get away. First, this Environmental Tech Note from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: Computers are getting smaller and faster at breakneck speed. And some folks in the computer-making business say we may soon reach the end of this exponential change unless there’s a new breakthrough in design or material.

Well, one scientist at the University of Delaware thinks that breakthrough may come on the wings of a chicken. When the Tyson Chicken Company offered to give renewable resources engineer, Richard Wool, two billion pounds a year of feathers it pulls off its birds, he got an idea.

He knew that silicon, the medium used in making computer chips, is one of the limiting factors to the speed at which information can travel. He also knew that information travels faster through air than through silicon. And finally, he knew that the fibers of little chicken hairs are hollow.

So, Wool made a series of small circuit plates out of compressed chicken feathers and sent and electric signal across them. He found that the chicken feathers carried the signal at about twice the speed of silicon. This research is just beginning. And Wool says it could be years, if ever, before computers can be made from feathers. But, he says, if his preliminary research holds up, our electronic gear of the future could be lighter, faster and fluffier. That’s this week’s Technology Note. I’m Cynthia Graber.


CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.




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