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MIT researchers developing a quarter-sized turbine engine

MIT researchers have started putting entire gas-turbine engines on tiny silicon chips. With the help of some military funding, researchers have fashioned millimeter-sized compressors, combustion chambers and turbines and placed them on layers of silicon wafers. The new engines promise to run more than 10 times longer than batteries of the same weigh and could help lighten the load for future soldiers.

Researchers from the school's Gas Turbine, Microsystems Technology and Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems laboratories made the individual components, 60 to 100 at a time, from large wafers and then cut them apart. The components were then placed into a housing made of six stacked silicon wafers.

Fuel is burned inside the combustion chamber which then turns the turbine blades at 20,000 RPM. So far all the parts work individually, but researchers hope to get a fully functional engine by the end of the year.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is funding the project. Modern troops like to carry power-hungry laptops, GPS units, satellite telephones and radio transmitters. MIT's research could help reduce battery weight.