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Wood Transistor Could Let Us Embed Electronics in Trees

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A wood transistor made from balsa wood.

The team found balsa has ideal characteristics for this approach, including retaining its structural integrity after removing lignin, absorbing the conductive polymer without issues, and no significant seasonal difference between summer and winter wood.

Credit: Van Chinh Tran

An electrical switch made from conductive wood could become a building block for future electronic devices embedded within living trees and other plants.

"There is an emerging research field called electronic plants, where scientists look at different ways to send signals inside plants or to incorporate functionality such as sensors in plants, even in living plants," says Isak Engquist at Linköping University in Sweden.

Engquist and his colleagues developed the wood equivalent of a transistor – an electronic component that can boost electric currents or act as a switch for electric signals. A single computer chip the size of a fingernail contains billions of tiny transistors made from semiconductor materials such as silicon. Each semiconductor transistor can switch on and off billions of times per second. Compared with silicon transistors, the wood transistors are significantly larger, each 3 centimetres long. They also have much slower switching speeds that only allow them to switch off in about 1 second, and to switch on in about 5 seconds.

But the wood transistors could prove more sustainable and biocompatible for certain electronic applications in agriculture or forestry, such as monitoring plants' resistance to environmental stress and climate change.

From New Scientist
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