The Incredible Shrinking Radio

A new wireless radio receiver thousands of time slimmer than a human hair could lead to radios far smaller than those of today.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, created a carbon nanotube "demodulator" that can translate AM radio waves into sound waves. In a recent demonstration, the researchers used it to transmit classical music wirelessly from an iPod to a speaker several feet away.

Carbon nanotubes are man-made microscopic mesh rods composed entirely of carbon atoms. Their incredible strength and other unique properties have led scientists to investigate them for use in everything from nano-electronics and space elevators to scaffolds for growing customized bone.

A demodulator converts an AM radio signals into electrical signals that can be fed into a speaker to produce sounds. The new device is about 100 times smaller than similar technology used in commercial wireless radio receivers, said study team member Peter Burke.

The device marks an important step in the evolution of nano-electronics and could lead to the production of the world's smallest radio, the scientists say.

The researchers are also investigating other possible uses of their device. "We are currently researching what the advantages would be for such a small component," Burke told LiveScience. "The significance of the work here is that it shows a systems application of nanotubes."

The device, created by Burke and graduate student Chris Rutherglen, will be detailed in the Nov. 14 issue of Nano Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society.