Spiderweb as inspiration for creating of one of the world's most precise microchip sensors

An artist's impression of an artificial spider web. The lab is called the TU Delft.

A team of researchers from TU Delft designed a chip that is the most precise in the world. The device can work at room temperature. They were able to make a sensor that vibrates in extreme isolation from everyday noise. This breakthrough has implications for the study of gravity and dark matter, as well as the fields of quantum internet, navigation and sense.

One of the biggest challenges for studying vibrating objects at the smallest scale is how to keep ambient thermal noise from interacting with their fragile states. Refrigerators cost half a million dollars and quantum hardware is usually kept at near absolute zero temperatures. The researchers from TU Delft created a sensor that could be used in isolation from room temperature noise. Building quantum devices will be more affordable thanks to their discovery.

Hitchhiking on evolution.

The researchers were looking for new ways to combine machine learning and nanotechnology. How did they come up with the idea to use spiderwebs as a model? When I was in the middle of a lockdown a decade ago, I noticed a lot of spiderwebs on my terrace. Spiderwebs are good at detecting vibration because they want to measure it inside the web to find their prey, but not outside of it, like wind through a tree. Why not use a spiderweb as an initial model for an ultra-sensitive device?

The team let machine learning guide the discovery process since they did not know anything about spiderwebs. The group decided to use a method called Bayesian Optimization to find a good design using few attempts, because the experiments and simulations were costly and time consuming. The computer model was implemented by Dongil Shin and the machine learning was applied to find the new device design.

The new type of sensor is inspired by nature's spider webs and is being demonstrated by Richard and Miguel in the lab. Frank Auperlé is a credit.

The sensor is based on spiderwebs.

The researcher was surprised by the proposal of a relatively simple spiderweb out of 150 different designs. Dongil's simulations showed that this device could work at room temperature, but still have a low amount of energy leaking in from the environment. The spiderweb concept was adapted with the help of machine learning and optimization.

The chip sensor was built with a film of ceramic called Silicon nitride, which is ultra-thin. The team tested the model by forcefully vibrating the microchip and measuring the time it took for the waves to stop. The result was a record-breaking isolated vibration. The energy loss from the outside of the microchip web was almost zero, because the vibrations move in a circle on the inside. This is similar to giving someone a single push on a swing, and having them swing on for nearly a century without stopping.

Implications for applied sciences.

Combining bio-inspired designs, machine learning and nanotechnology, the researchers show how this interdisciplinary strategy opens a path to new breakthrough in science. This novel paradigm has interesting implications for quantum internet, sensor technologies, and fundamental physics, like gravity or dark matter, which are difficult to measure. The discovery would not have been possible without the university's Cohesion grant.

Dongil Shin and his team at Spiderweb have a paper titled " Spiderweb Nanomechanical Resonators via Bayesian Optimization: inspired by Nature and Guided by Machine Learning, Advanced Materials". There is a book titled "10.1002/adma. 202106248."

Journal information about advanced materials.

Spiderweb is an inspiration for creating of one of the world's most precise microchip sensors.

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