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Darwin on a Chip: Revolutionary Circuits Mimic Natural Networks like Human Brain

Researchers of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology and the CTIT Institute for ICT Research at the University of Twente in The Netherlands have demonstrated working electronic circuits that have been produced in a radically new way, using methods that resemble Darwinian evolution.

The size of these circuits is comparable to the size of their conventional counterparts, but they are much closer to natural networks like the human brain. The findings promise a new generation of powerful, energy-efficient electronics, and have been published in the leading British journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Schematic of the device layout and working principle.

Image: Schematic of the device layout and working principle.

Learning from Nature

One of the greatest successes of the 20th century has been the development of digital computers. During the last decades these computers have become more and more powerful by integrating ever smaller components on silicon chips. However, it is becoming increasingly hard and extremely expensive to continue this miniaturisation.

Current transistors consist of only a handful of atoms. It is a major challenge to produce chips in which the millions of transistors have the same characteristics, and thus to make the chips operate properly. Another drawback is that their energy consumption is reaching unacceptable levels. It is obvious that one has to look for alternative directions, and it is interesting to see what we can learn from nature. Natural evolution has led to powerful ‘computers’ like the human brain, which can solve complex problems in an energy-efficient way. Nature exploits complex networks that can execute many tasks in parallel.

Design Loos

The approach used by the researchers is much closer to the solution that nature has "invented". They have used a network of about 200 gold nanoparticles for carrying out essential computational tasks. In contrast to conventional electronics, there is no draft at the basis of their system. Precious design errors can not be made.

The computational power of the network is verkegen by artificial evolution. This does not take millions of years, but only tens of minutes. By providing electrical signals, one and the same network in 16 different logic circuits may be configured so. Defects play would be fatal in conventional electronics is not important, because the evolutionary approach that circumvents or would use it even.

Performance and energy efficiency

It is the first time scientists have succeeded in this way to realize robust electronics with dimensions that can compete with commercial technology. The circuits are realized according to prof. Dr Wilfred van der Wiel currently limited computing power. "But we have to study well the proof of principle provided:. Demonstrated that our approach works in practice by the system to scale, but soon it gets real added value for example, the commitment in recognizing patterns, such as. face recognition. This is very difficult for a regular computer, while people and also our circuitry cope much better. "

Another important advantage may be that this type of circuitry uses much less energy, both in the production, and during use. The researchers provide a wide range of applications, for example, in portable electronics and in the medical world.

Source: Evolution of a designless nanoparticle network into reconfigurable Boolean logic

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