Northwestern University researchers--the same ones that brought us self-erasing documents a couple of years ago--are envisioning a day when computers and other gadgets can rewire themselves automatically to better suit the user’s needs at a given moment. As a step in that direction, they have today published a paper in Nature Nanotechnology describing tiny circuits they’ve created from nano-scale materials that can be resistors, diodes, transistors, or other components depending on what the computer needs them to be at a given time.
Basically, they’ve created circuitry that can rewire itself in the lab. Harnessed for consumer electronics, this technology could enable a new breed of computers that are always optimized for the task at hand.
The nanoparticle-based electronics work by basically creating new and fluid ways of steering the flow of electrons through a material. Rather than being static, the particles in the material can be rearranged to create varying degrees of resistance, conductivity, or whatever the system needs at a given time, even creating multiple streams of electrons flowing in different directions at the same time through the same material.
This is all made possible by a few tiny, five-nanometer-wide electrically conductive particles coated in a positively charged chemical all immersed in a pool of negatively charged atoms. Signals from a computer can then move the negatively charged atoms around, creating regions of high or low conductivity that dictate where and how electrons will naturally find a path through the material. Once an electron path is no longer needed, it can scrubbed from the system by simply reconfiguring the negatively charged atoms in a different way. In doing this, the computer can basically conjure different electrical components--diodes or resistors or switches or what have you--on demand.
The result of all that could be computers that can quickly adapt to whatever task they are performing at that particular moment, making high-powered computing--or even the common tasks performed by a smartphone-far more efficient.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.