Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created a new class of gas sensors using a chemical process that converts the silica (silicon dioxide) found in the shells of diatoms into the semiconductor material silicon.

Silicon is normally produced from silica at temperatures well above the silicon melting point (1,414 degrees Celsius), so that solid silicon replicas cannot be directly produced from silica structures with such conventional processing. The researchers used a reaction based on magnesium gas that converted the silica into a composite containing silicon (Si) and magnesium oxide (MgO). The conversion took place at only 650 degrees Celsius, which allowed preservation of the complex channels and hollow cylindrical shape of the diatom.

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