A little bit of light music

The world’s smallest guitar – carved out of crystalline silicon and no larger than a single cell – has been made at Cornell University to demonstrate a new technology that could have a variety of uses in fibre optics, displays, sensors and electronics.

The nanoguitar is just one of several structures that Cornell researchers believe are the world’s smallest silicon mechanical devices. Researchers made these devices at the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility, bringing micro-electromechanical devices, or MEMs, to a new even smaller scale – the nano-sized world.

‘We have a new technology for building the smallest mechanical devices,’ said Harold Craig, head, Cornell professor of applied and engineering physics who has directed the work performed by his doctoral student, Dustin W Carr. The guitar has six strings, each string about 50nm wide – the width of about 10 atoms. If plucked by an atomic force microscope, for example, the strings will resonate, but at inaudible frequencies. The entire structure is about 10 micro-m long, about the size of a single cell.

‘While the guitar caused lots of interest, it is other structures and devices that will be of real utility,’ Craighead says. ‘Applications that require small scale mechanical probes, high speed response or measurement of very small forces can benefit from this technology.’