Integrated circuits smash survival record in Venusian atmosphere

Integrated circuits that could withstand the harsh conditions on Venus for a record-breaking length of time have been built and tested by researchers at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Operating a lander on the surface of Venus is a very difficult task because the temperatures there can reach 460˚ C and the pressure of the caustic atmosphere is about 100 times that of Earth’s. This vicious environment quickly destroys electronic circuits – even if they are cocooned in heat- and pressure-resistant vessels – and the best systems have only survived for a few hours on Venus. Creating circuits that can resist the Venusian atmosphere for longer and without the need for heavy and cumbersome shields is the goal of NASA’s Phil Neudeck and colleagues. They have created a new integrated circuit from silicon carbide (SiC), which is an extremely tough, chemically inert and heat-resistant semiconductor. They made two ring-oscillator integrated circuits from SiC junction field-effect transistors and tested them in the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig, which can simulate conditions on Venus. The chips survived for more than 500 h while exposed directly to the harsh environment, with no cooling and no protective chip packaging. "Both integrated circuits still worked after the end of the test," Neudeck says. The work is described in AIP Advances.

Electronic capsule powers itself with stomach acid

A new ingestible electronic device can harvest energy inside the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, allowing it to monitor temperature over several days. In recent years, the technology behind ingestible electronics has significantly improved. These small devices can take live images of the GI tract, deliver drugs and measure conditions such as pH and temperature. However, powering the devices for more than a few hours remains challenging. Now, a team led by Giovanni Traverso of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Medical School has developed a capsule that uses biocompatible galvanic cells. The cells harvest energy from the GI tract by transferring electrons between metallic electrodes and the gastric or intestinal fluid. The process can power the device for several days, allowing it to monitor temperature and send data wirelessly to the researchers. The electronic capsule could be used for diagnosis and treatment, and the team hopes to combine the technology with other sensors. A more detailed report on the work presented in Nature Biomedical Engineering can be found on nanotechweb.org.

Israel tops global R&D spend

Israel put 4.3% of its gross domestic product (GDP) into R&D in 2015, making it the biggest spender – in terms of the percentage of its economic output – of the 35 countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Israel just surpassed South Korea, who ploughed 4.2% of the country’s GDP into science, while Japan was third (3.5%). The US, meanwhile, spent 2.8% of its GDP on R&D, with China spending 2.1%. In Europe, Sweden was the highest at 3.3% followed by Austria at 3.1%. The UK, meanwhile, spent 1.7% of its GDP on R&D, below the EU average of 2.1% and the OECD average of 2.4%. The OECD says that there was a slight decline in government R&D budgets in 2015 but businesses increased their contribution by 2.5%, making the private sector responsible for nearly 70% of all R&D spending that year.


  • You can find all our daily Flash Physics posts in the website's news section, as well as on Twitter and Facebook using #FlashPhysics. Tune in to physicsworld.com later today to read today's extensive news story on atomic friction.