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Nanotube Radio for Communications and Medical Applications

IB-2431, 2432


(a) Schematic of the nanotube radio. Radio transmissions
tuned to the nanotube’s resonance frequency force the charged nanotube to vibrate. Field emission of electrons from the tip of the nanotube is used to detect the vibrations and also amplify and demodulate the signal. A current measuring device, such as a sensitive speaker, monitors the output of the radio.
(b) Transmissionelectron micrographs of a nanotube radio off resonance (top) and on resonance (bottom) during a radio transmission.


  • All-in-one radio receiver for cell phones/wireless networks/GPS and other electronic devices
  • Radio controlled devices that can exist inside the body, e.g. used as drug release triggers, diagnostic instrumentation, interfacing with muscle or brain function
  • Ultra small hearing aid
  • RF antenna, tunable pass filter, amplifier, or demodulator
  • Mass spectrometer
  • Chemical sensor


  • Orders of magnitude smaller than previous radios – can fit inside a living cell
  • Eliminates wiring/thermal problems associated with unifying a micro or nano-scale radio system
  • Extremely low power requirements
  • Can be tuned after fabrication and during operation
  • Can be manufactured individually or in arrays
  • Smaller, more inexpensive and more sensitive than state-of-the-art mass spectrometers or chemical sensors


Alex Zettl and his team at Berkeley Lab have invented and constructed a fully functional, integrated radio receiver based on a single carbon nanotube (CNT).  The nanotube serves simultaneously as all essential components of a radio -- antenna, tunable band-pass filter, amplifier, and demodulator—to convert an electromagnetic signal into a mechanical signal and then into an electrical signal amplified and demodulated to produce audible sound.  The radio is several orders of magnitude smaller than previous radios due to the use of the nanotube’s electro-mechanical movement instead of a conventional radio’s electrical components.

Berkeley Lab’s nanotube radio promises smaller, less complex, and lower power-requirement wireless communication devices. The radio can be configured to be either a receiver or a transmitter. Because its scale is compatible with biological systems, the radio also offers unique opportunities for radio controlled devices  to be placed in the body for various diagnostic, therapeutic,  monitoring, and sensory (auditory and visual) functions.

In addition, the nanotube may be altered by contact with particles at the atomic scale that change the resonance frequency of the nanotube. This change may be used to detect the impingement of particles, whether solid or gaseous, to create a highly sensitive, inexpensive mass spectrometer or gas sensor. A mass spectrometer constructed using this technology can detect the mass of less than a single hydrogen atom. The nanotube application could also measure the masses of large molecules or those that are difficult to ionize, e.g., DNA, proteins, because it does not rely on ionizing a particle to make measurements, as in traditional mass spectrometers.



  • Published patent application WO/2009/048695 available at Available for licensing.


  • A prototype radio has been tested (see details below).


Using carrier waves in the commercially relevant 40-400 MHz range and both frequency and amplitude modulation (FM and AM), the Berkeley Lab team has demonstrated successful music and voice reception with the nanotube radio.  After being received, filtered, amplified, and demodulated by the nanotube radio, the signal was further amplified by a current preamplifier, sent to an audio loudspeaker and recorded.  Click here to listen to a recording and see the radio in operation.

The Berkeley Lab nanotube radio consists of an individual CNT mounted to an electrode in close proximity to a counter electrode.  Both the electrodes and nanotube are in a vacuum, typically below 10 -7 Torr.  A direct current voltage (dc) source, such as from a battery or solar cell array, is connected to the electrodes and powers the radio.  The dc voltage negatively charges the tip of the nanotube, tensioning it as desired to tune into oscillating electric fields.  Thus the radio can be tuned while in operation to receive only a preselected band of the electromagnetic spectrum.


Jensen, K., Weldon, J., Garcia, H., Zettl, A., Nanotube Radio, Nano Letters, Vol. 0, No. 0, A-D

REFERENCE NUMBER: IB-2431, 2432, 2433, 2434, 2435


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Last updated: 06/07/2012