Building a synthetic brain is no easy undertaking, but researchers working on the problem have to start somewhere. In doing so, engineers at the University of Southern California have taken a huge step by building a synthetic synapse from carbon nanotubes.
In tests, their synapse circuit functions very much like a real neuron–neurons being the very building blocks of the brain. Tapping the unique properties of carbon nanotubes, their lab was able to essentially recreate brain function in a very fractional way.
Of course, duplicating synapse firings in a nanotube circuit and creating synthetic brain function are two very different things. The human brain, as we well know, is very complex and hardly static like the inner workings of a computer. Over time it makes new connections, adapts to changes, and produces new neurons.
But while a functioning synthetic brain may be decades away, the synthetic synapse is here now, which could help researchers model neuron communications and otherwise begin building, from the ground up, an artificial mimic of one of biology’s biggest mysteries.