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Researchers serve chicken with chips
Tuesday, July 30 2002
by Ciaran Buckley

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Scientists in Delaware are using a chicken feather-base composite to reduce the weight and increase the performance of computers.

According to research carried out at the Affordable Composites from Renewable Sources (ACRES) program at the University of Delaware, chicken feathers make great conductors when pressed into circuit boards for computer chips.

In early tests, electrical signals moved twice as quickly through the feather chip as through a conventional silicon chip, researchers said. "It was not exactly a feather-brained idea," Richard Wool, director of the University's ACRES program in Newark, Delaware said in an interview with TechTV.com. "They'll be about 50 percent lighter and about 50 percent faster."

To make the chips, the feather fibres are stripped from the quills, pressed together into mats and mixed with a special type of soybean oil. Next, the chicken feather composite is pressed into boards, and cut down into small boards for circuits. "The feathers themselves are quite strong," Wool claimed in the TechTV report. "They're also hollow and filled with air, one of the best conductors of electrons. It's the air that we are running on, thin air," Wool said.

Researchers said that with chicken feathers in plentiful supply, the circuit boards would be cheap to produce. One 12-square-inch panel contains almost a half-pound of feather fibres. Wool said that poultry companies are already lining up to be suppliers, but that he could not estimate what the circuit boards will ultimately cost.

The scientists still have more research to do to make sure the feather circuit boards will meet computer industry performance standards. But with the right manufacturing partners, Wool says, the boards could be commercialised within two years.

Scientists at the ACRES lab have experimented with many natural materials for making composites, from soybeans to flax. Composites are alternatives to the usual fabrication materials such as wood, steel and aluminium. Other inventions include a chair that was manufactured from flax fibre and polymerised soybean oil.

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