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Weird Science: Worms Turn Metal into Working Semi-Conductors

Weird Science: Worms Turn Metal into Working Semi-Conductors

by Brandy Cross

Anyone who read Nature Nanotechnology on the 23rd of December A new study at the Kings College in London has revealed a bit of very weird science. Worms, when fed tiny bits of metal, the worms produced quantum dots, tiny semi-conductors only nanometers across.  Quantum dots are used in imaging because they can be programmed to glow at specific levels, and are more accurate than using dye. But while scientists have successfully created semi-conducts by feeding the worm’s metal laced soil, they say that they weren’t looking for a cheaper way to make the conductors, it was just a weird science experiment.

weird science earthworms

Diagram of a Quantum dot

What are Quantum Dots?

Quantum Dots are nanometer sized semi-conductors with a crystalline structure and conducting ability somewhere between diode crystals and traditional materials. Quantum dots are usually between 5 and 50 nanometers in size (1,000,000 nanometers = 1 millimeter) and can be manufactured using a variety of techniques including acid etching, spontaneous creation in quantum well structures, from two dimensional electrons, and most commonly by lithographically patterning gate electrons. They are bulk processed using three forms of creation including viral assembly, electric assembly, and high temperature dual injection. Quantum dots are then used in computing, biology, photovoltaic devices, photodetectors, and light emitting devices. Quantum dots are majorly made up of dopide cells including Telluride, which is crystalline in nature and excellent for using in the manufacture of quantum dots.

Known Properties of Worms

Worms have long been used for many things in science including composting for in gardens. Worms are also known for their ability to process cadmium, which, as a bit of weird science, actually causes the cadmium exposed worms ‘children’ to regenerate and regrow body parts more quickly than their elders. This is in part due to the harmful effects of cadmium, and the forced response of the immune system. But that’s not all of the weird science worms are known for; worms can also detoxify tissue by moving harmful elements in soil into body cavities, later to be safely excreted out. The chemical responsible for this transfer is known as metallothionein.

Solid State Chemistry Inside of an Animal

Solid state chemistry is the synthesis, study, and properties of solid state materials, and until now, it has never been done inside of a living thing. In this particular bit of weird science, the solid state chemistry was done inside of a worm, without too much interaction from the scientists.

Mark Green, co-author of the study released in Nature Nanotechnology claims that the idea originally came to him several years ago, but did not start working on the project until he met up with Stephen Stürzenbaum.  Green philosophized that the worms would handle the cadmium and telluride wuite well, and Stürzenbaum moved on with the project because he knew that the Quantum dots would be stored in the chloragogen cells where the worms store harmful and toxic waste.

Surprisingly, neither of the pair expected the weird science experiment to work out quite as well as it did. The quantum dots produced are similar but not quite on par with lab produced ones, but the pair say that they should be able to move the chemicals around and create a ‘better’ result next time.

As weird science goes, using worms to produce Quantum dots might not be extremely far up the list, but it’s certainly something new and interesting. Performing solid state chemistry inside of a living being, and having that being do most of the work, is definitely new and exciting, but maybe not the future of science and tech, as thousands of earthworms would have to be sacrificed to produce sufficient quantities of quantum dots.

Want more weird science? Check out our article about the JellyFish Rat from earlier this year.

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About Brandy

Proliferate writer, sesquipedalian, techie, Apple fangirl (don't judge),tree hugger, yogi, tea drinker, zombie hunter. Into philotherianism & philomathy. Love my job. Visit me on Google +