Synthetic semiconductors could be grown in a lab

Semiconductors could be synthetically grown using genetic engineering and molecular evolution methods, according to scientists at the University of Santa Barbara.

Silicateins or silica proteins – which are responsible for silica skeletons in marine sponges – can be grown into new mineral architectures.

Researchers were able to direct the growth of the silicatein enzymes, which serve as templates for silica. This means that silica, also known as silicon, could be grown using the same biological processes that create animal bones.

This would mean the potential to artificially create semiconducting materials from scratch, and essentially, in simplified terms, opens up the possibility to grow your own computer chips.

According to one of the researchers, Lukmaan Bawazer, this is a new method in the realms of human technology, but is one that would have always been found in nature.

The research may seem almost outlandish, but the researchers claim that the potential for real world applications is there.   

The ‘directed evolution’ methods of controlling growth could also be used to evolve other materials, and the researchers reckon they will be able to evolve materials with specific features. This could mean high performance in evolved solar cells, for instance.

According to Bawazer, now that the team has been able to demonstrate the evolution of material structure, the next step is to evolve material performance “in a functional device”.