This Christmas Song Brought To You By The World's Tiniest Radio Receiver : The Two-Way Engineers made a radio receiver with building blocks the size of two atoms. One benefit of a radio so small you can barely see it: The machine works at extremely high temperatures.
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This Christmas Song Brought To You By The World's Tiniest Radio Receiver

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This Christmas Song Brought To You By The World's Tiniest Radio Receiver

This Christmas Song Brought To You By The World's Tiniest Radio Receiver

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now - a reminder that, even in unsettled times, people continue with discoveries and inventions. NPR's Rebecca Hersher has been listening to the world's tiniest radio receiver.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: This song is just about two minutes long, so let's see if we can understand how they built the radio that's playing it before the song ends.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR")

ANDY WILLIAMS: (Singing) It's the most wonderful time of the year.

HERSHER: Here is Marko Loncar, the lead researcher on the project.

MARKO LONCAR: It's pretty cool because it's diamond radio.

HERSHER: The diamond inside the radio has little imperfections, where pairs of carbon atoms are missing.

LONCAR: And we replace one carbon atom with nitrogen.

HERSHER: And next they each nitrogen atom, there's a little hole full of electrons. And that hole has a special property. When you shine a green laser at the hole, it glows red.

LONCAR: Which is pretty cool. So imagine having an engagement ring that, you know, you can shine a laser at and glows in the dark.

HERSHER: And the more excited the electrons in the diamond hole get, the brighter the red light. So here's how this little radio works - radio waves are broadcast from somewhere - say, your local NPR station. They pass through the diamond and cause the red glow to change, convert that light to audio and there you go. It's a radio receiver.

LONCAR: So, you know, we are scientists, so first we played the "Star Wars" theme. We kind of like that.

HERSHER: OK, time out from the two-minute Christmas song so we can hear some of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "STAR WARS MAIN THEME")

HERSHER: And we're back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR")

WILLIAMS: (Singing) It's the most...

HERSHER: So they transmit the Christmas or "Star Wars" song as radio waves, and the diamond picks it up.

LONCAR: I played it for my son. He has very high standards apparently (laughter), so he said, well, it's crackling a bit, but it's OK. So it is true that, you know, it's not super hi-fi yet.

HERSHER: Loncar thinks that's a problem with how they amplify the sound, among other things. As for what these might be used for in the future, maybe communicating in space. These tiny diamond radios are really tough. They can withstand temperatures of up to 620 degrees. And that was just about two minutes.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

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