Could a computer one day rewire itself? New nanomaterial ‘steers’ current in multiple dimensions

Oct 16, 2011

Scientists at Northwestern University have developed a new nanomaterial that can "steer" electrical currents. The development could lead to a computer that can simply reconfigure its internal wiring and become an entirely different device, based on changing needs.

As are built smaller and smaller, the materials from which the circuits are constructed begin to lose their properties and begin to be controlled by quantum mechanical phenomena. Reaching this physical barrier, many scientists have begun building circuits into multiple dimensions, such as stacking components on top of one another.

The Northwestern team has taken a fundamentally different approach. They have made reconfigurable : materials that can rearrange themselves to meet different computational needs at different times.

"Our new steering technology allows use to direct current flow through a piece of continuous material," said Bartosz A. Grzybowski, who led the research. "Like redirecting a river, streams of electrons can be steered in multiple directions through a block of the material -- even multiple streams flowing in opposing directions at the same time."

Grzybowski is professor of chemical and in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

The Northwestern material combines different aspects of silicon- and polymer-based electronics to create a new classification of electronic materials: nanoparticle-based electronics.

The study, in which the authors report making preliminary with the hybrid material, will be published online Oct. 16 by the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The research also will be published as the cover story in the November print issue of the journal.

"Besides acting as three-dimensional bridges between existing technologies, the reversible nature of this new material could allow a computer to redirect and adapt its own circuitry to what is required at a specific moment in time," said David A. Walker, an author of the study and a graduate student in Grzybowski's research group.

Imagine a single device that reconfigures itself into a resistor, a rectifier, a diode and a transistor based on signals from a computer. The multi-dimensional circuitry could be reconfigured into new electronic circuits using a varied input sequence of electrical pulses.

The hybrid material is composed of electrically conductive particles, each five nanometers in width, coated with a special positively charged chemical. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.) The particles are surrounded by a sea of negatively charged atoms that balance out the positive charges fixed on the particles. By applying an electrical charge across the material, the small negative atoms can be moved and reconfigured, but the relatively larger positive particles are not able to move.

By moving this sea of negative atoms around the material, regions of low and high conductance can be modulated; the result is the creation of a directed path that allows electrons to flow through the material. Old paths can be erased and new paths created by pushing and pulling the sea of negative atoms. More complex electrical components, such as diodes and transistors, can be made when multiple types of nanoparticles are used.

Explore further: Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

More information: "Dynamic Internal Gradients Control and Direct Electric Currents Within Nanostructured Materials" Nature Nanotechnology (2011).

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kaasinees
1 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2011
The concept of self rewriting programs already exist.

http://en.wikiped...ing_code

http://bellard.org/otcc/
gwrede
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 16, 2011
This is neat. But if the promise of self-rewiring cirquitry were important, then we'd already have a host of FPGA boards that keep getting reprogrammed as a task is executed.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2011
Self modifying hardware has been around for quite a while in the form of CPU's that are combined with FPGA's, where the FPGA is the device whose "hardware" is being remapped.

Unfortunately there isn't any software that will intelligently reprogram a FPGA based on the desired operation, and no software do decide what is desired given a problem at hand.

PhotonX
5 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2011
I'm just glad they finally explained what a nanometer is! I've been having trouble figuring that one out.
socean
5 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2011
Looks like a very promising technology for neural networks.
holoman
1 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2011
Idea was first published in 2004.

And no more expensive upgrades. As better designs and firmware became available, youd simply send the Optocom back to the maker and its holographic circuitry would be re-programmed with new circuits and firmware.

Optocom? It reads like science fiction but its short for Optical Computer, and its based on firm science fact, says Michael Thomas, inventor of the atomic holographic nanotechnology that will make it possible.

http://www.p2pnet...tory/842

holoman
1 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2011
Concept Invented 2004.

And no more expensive upgrades. As better designs and firmware became available, youd simply send the Optocom back to the maker and its holographic circuitry would be re-programmed with new circuits and firmware.

Optocom? It reads like science fiction but its short for Optical Computer, and its based on firm science fact, says Michael Thomas, inventor of the atomic holographic nanotechnology that will make it possible.

http://p2pnet.net/story/842
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Oct 17, 2011
The concept of self rewriting programs already exist.

What has this got to do with the article? This is about rewiting hardware, not software.

But if the promise of self-rewiring cirquitry were important, then we'd already have a host of FPGA boards that keep getting reprogrammed as a task is executed.

The concept of rewireable hardware has been explored (on a much cruder scale) before with FPGAs. The aim was to create a chip which could be a sound chip one cycle, a graphics chip the next and a general purpose CPU the next. AFAIK they did this to the scale of a few ten thousands of transistors. It does work. Example here:
http://ce.et.tudelft.nl/MOLEN/
But the reconfiguration takes time and energy making it less efficient than dedicated chips. Dedicated hardware also has much higher transistor densities and lower manufacturing costs - so currently it's better to go that way.

But with the technology described in the article that might (hopefully) change.
knikiy
not rated yet Oct 18, 2011
Speaking of hybrid components, I wonder whats new with the memristor?
gwrede
1 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2011
What has this got to do with the article? This is about rewiting hardware, not software.
The FPGA represents rewritable *hardware*. That is entirely distinct from rewritable software.

Now, both exist, and are old inventions. My point was that since neither has become a household thing, there is no reason to believe this nano-thing will become anything more than a passing item on some science news lists. At best, it will survive in a niche, doing something very specific at a small scale, but that's it.

The article presents this technology as if next summer the beaches and streets are filled with Transformers. -- That's an insult to the reader.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2011
The concept of self rewriting programs already exist.

What has this got to do with the article? This is about rewiting hardware, not software.

Whats the point if you have a fast FPU/GPU/CPU? and reprogram-able software.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Oct 19, 2011
Whats the point if you have a fast FPU/GPU/CPU? and reprogram-able software.

There's applications where this can be very useful:

- anything where space or weight is at a premium and speed is not of much importance (small sensor/processing units, small personal electronics, micro personal computers)

- anything where maintenance is not possible (spacecraft where you have to lug around multiply redundant systems. If you have 3GPUs and 3 CPUs - and all 3 CPUs fail - then the 3 GPUs are dead weight. But have something like in the article and you can reconfigure as needed)

- any computer within a harsh environment (radiation cleanup, etc.) for the same reasons

- any hardware that is security sensitive. Think what you could do against somthing like stuxnet by periodically reconfiguring the hardware - much cheaper than replacing it.

and these are just off-the-top-of-my-head ideas...
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2011
"Whats the point if you have a fast FPU/GPU/CPU? and reprogram-able software." - Kaas

100 times faster performance.
thematrix606
1 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2011
I'm just glad they finally explained what a nanometer is! I've been having trouble figuring that one out.


I actually always wonder why they always refer to the size of a nanometer relative to a meter? Why not a millimeter or micrometer? You might as well say it's a trillionth of a kilometer!
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Oct 21, 2011
Because the meter is the SI unit and not the millimeter or the micrometer.

Most people have no concept of what a micrometer is. So effectively saying "a garumpel is a thousandth of a froodldimp long" is not much help. But everybody can relate to what a meter is.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2011
"Whats the point if you have a fast FPU/GPU/CPU? and reprogram-able software." - Kaas

100 times faster performance.

Ok that tops idiocy but nevermind.

Because the meter is the SI unit and not the millimeter or the micrometer.

Most people have no concept of what a micrometer is. So effectively saying "a garumpel is a thousandth of a froodldimp long" is not much help. But everybody can relate to what a meter is.


Yeah mili and micro are SI prefixes.

.
When i was around 6(maybe 7 or 8? dont remember) years old i had to explain my teacher what a nanosecond is, but he didnt believe me it existed ;[
Isaacsname
not rated yet Oct 22, 2011
I'm just glad they finally explained what a nanometer is! I've been having trouble figuring that one out.


On planet Ork they are called " Nanoometers ".

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