As anyone who has experienced the devastation of spilling a glass of water on their laptop knows, H2O and computers don’t mix. Almost equally as bad? Magnets. Both are terrible, horrible, no-good computer killing substances… which is why it was kind of a surprise to learn about a brand new computer built using water droplets and an electromagnet.
A ‘computer’ is a machine that can follow a program or list of instructions. This computer, announced in a paper published this week in Nature Physics, doesn’t process information, however, like electronic computers do today. Instead, it can manipulate tiny droplets of water.
“Droplets are fascinating material, because they are a little bag, you can put anything you want in it” said Manu Prakash, a bioengineer at Stanford who designed the computer along with his students.
In this case, Prakash and his team put tiny amounts of magnetic nanoparticles into the water droplets, and placed them on a tiny metal maze about the size of a stamp. The metal bars act as pathways along which the magnetic drops can travel–a movement that is equivalent to the patterns of ones and zeros that make up computer code today.
The hope is that one day, those tiny droplets could act like test tubes, analyzing chemicals or biological components more quickly and more easily than any current lab technology.
There are plans to release the design of this physical computer to the public, but in the meantime, to see machine in action, watch the Stanford team’s video below: