European scientists say they’ve created a molecular switch that alternates between biological and silicon worlds for use in numerous nanotech applications.

Keith Firman, a reader — associate professor — in molecular biotechnology at Portsmouth University, is coordinator of the European Commission’s Mol-Switch project.

Frankly, some researchers didn’t think what we were attempting was possible because standard descriptions in physics — for example the Stokes equation for viscosity — indicated the system might not work. But viscous forces do not apply at the nano-scale, said Firman.

The newly created switch reportedly works with a number of DNA-based motors. Specific sensors, which emit electrons, can tell if the biological motor is working, so the nano-scale switch links the biological world with the silicon world of electronic signals.

Such a switch, the scientists explained, supplies and transmits a measured amount of energy for the operation of another mechanism or system.

The light switch, the button that makes a retractable pen, all these are actuators, and by developing a molecular switch we’ve created a tiny actuator that could be used in an equally vast number of applications, including flow-control valves, pumps, positioning drives, motors, switches, relays and biosensors, said Firman.