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Carbon Pillars Power Microbatteries

California researchers close in on chip-scale energy

2 min read

There is no Moore's Law for batteries, but that doesn't mean you can't apply the same advances that have yielded increasingly powerful computer chips to the problem of powering those chips. This month, Marc Madou, a microelectromechanical systems expert at the University of California, Irvine, and his collaborators plan to demonstrate powerful chip-scale batteries made using techniques borrowed largely from semiconductor manufacturing. The inventors say the resulting microbatteries, capable of delivering an intense burst of electricity or a steady flow of relatively low current, would be suitable for many applications, including sensors, cellphones, hearing aids, and cardiac defibrillators. "You could use it for all types of tiny electronic gadgets," Madou says.

Batteries generate electricity through a chemical reaction in which an electrolyte ferries ions between a pair of electrodes: the positively charged anode and the negatively charged cathode. The amount of current generated depends on how much of the chemical reaction takes place--which depends on both the surface area of the electrodes and the volume of the battery's electrolyte. The more surface area there is, the more current can be generated within the same volume. That presents a fundamental challenge for small batteries, which have neither expansive electrodes nor large volumes of electrolyte.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

2 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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