This Microcomputer Can Advance the Study of Tumours


This device can be used to investigate temperature variations in tumour versus normal tissues and to evaluate success of therapies

With a device measuring 0.3 mm to a side, researchers at the University of Michigan have claimed to produce the world’s smallest computer. The computer, reported to seem like a dwarf in front of a rice grain, has potential applications as a temperature sensor.

The smallest computer as an advancement in oncology

The team has suggested applications of the computer in oncology, especially in related temperature measurements. Gary Luker, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering, said, “We are using this temperature sensor to investigate variations in temperature within a tumour versus normal tissue and if we can use changes in temperature to determine success or failure of therapy.”

The device converts temperatures into time intervals, defined with electronic pulses, to function as a temperature sensor. The intervals are measured on-chip against a steady time interval sent by the base station and then converted into a temperature. Consequently, the computer can report temperatures in regions such as a cluster of cells with an error of about 0.1 degrees Celsius.

Overcoming the challenge of low power

The computing device consists of processors, wireless transmitters and receivers in addition to the RAM and photovoltaics. Since small computers are unable to have standard radio antennae, they use visible light to receive and transmit data. This light is provided by a base station and is used for power and programming.

Further, to reduce the power intake, the light from the base station as well as from the device’s own transmission LED is used to induce currents in the circuits. The circuit design approach was not only based on low power but also light tolerance.

The general requirement of a desktop computer is that on unplugging, it retains its program and data when it boots itself up once the power is back. The new microdevices, from IBM and now the University of Michigan, lose all prior programming and data as soon as they lose power. This has led to a re-examination of the defined constituents of a computer.