4 April 1999

The six million dollar man cometh

New research published in the latest edition of Materials World looks at a new porous version of silicon that could allow mechanical devices to interact with human tissue.

The new work comes from research into the biocompatibility of silicon at De Montfort University, in the UK and could lead to electronic sensing devices for checking body chemistry and potentially viewing images, hearing sounds and "bionic" limb replacements. Scientists attempting to electropolish silicon with an electrolyte containing hydrofluoric acid discovered Porous silicon. The acid left a number of quantum dots in the silicon which trap electrons making it an efficient, luminescent semiconductor.

De Montfort's Professor Sue Bayliss says, "The ability to culture mammalian cells directly onto porous silicon, coupled with the material's apparent lack of toxicity, offers exciting possibilities for the future of biologically interfaced sensing".

If future trials are successful porous silicon could be used to close the gap between mechanical devices and human tissue by transmitting the signals and information from a device to the nervous system and back again. Unfortunately producing porous silicon is a very difficult process and more research is currently underway to find ways of improving this.