Mar 222011
 
Electric discharge showing the ribbon-like pla...
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At the scale of the very small, physics can get peculiar. A University of Michigan biomedical engineering professor has discovered a new instance of such a nanoscale phenomenon — one that could lead to faster, less expensive portable diagnostic devices and push back frontiers in building micro-mechanical and “lab on a chip” devices.

In our macroscale world, materials called conductors effectively transmit electricity and materials called insulators or dielectrics don’t, unless they are jolted with an extremely high voltage. Under such “dielectric breakdown” circumstances, as when a bolt of lightening hits a rooftop, the dielectric (the rooftop in this example) suffers irreversible damage.

This isn’t the case at the nanoscale, according to a new discovery by Alan Hunt, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Hunt and his research team were able to get an electric current to pass nondestructively through a sliver of glass, which isn’t usually a conductor.

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