Chaotic physics in ferroelectrics hints at brain-like computing

November 18, 2013, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Unexpected behavior in ferroelectric materials explored by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory supports a new approach to information storage and processing known as memcomputing. Credit: ORNL

Unexpected behavior in ferroelectric materials explored by researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory supports a new approach to information storage and processing.

Ferroelectric materials are known for their ability to spontaneously switch polarization when an electric field is applied. Using a scanning probe microscope, the ORNL-led team took advantage of this property to draw areas of switched polarization called domains on the surface of a ferroelectric material. To the researchers' surprise, when written in dense arrays, the domains began forming complex and unpredictable patterns on the material's surface.

"When we reduced the distance between domains, we started to see things that should have been completely impossible," said ORNL's Anton Ievlev, the first author on the paper published in Nature Physics. "All of a sudden, when we tried to draw a domain, it wouldn't form, or it would form in an alternating pattern like a checkerboard. At first glance, it didn't make any sense. We thought that when a domain forms, it forms. It shouldn't be dependent on surrounding domains."

After studying patterns of domain formation under varying conditions, the researchers realized the complex behavior could be explained through chaos theory. One domain would suppress the creation of a second domain nearby but facilitate the formation of one farther away—a precondition of , says ORNL's Sergei Kalinin, who led the study.

"Chaotic behavior is generally realized in time, not in space," he said. "An example is a dripping faucet: sometimes the droplets fall in a regular pattern, sometimes not, but it is a time-dependent process. To see chaotic behavior realized in space, as in our experiment, is highly unusual."

Collaborator Yuriy Pershin of the University of South Carolina explains that the team's system possesses key characteristics needed for memcomputing, an emergent computing paradigm in which information storage and processing occur on the same physical platform.

"Memcomputing is basically how the human brain operates: Neurons and their connections—synapses—can store and process information in the same location," Pershin said. "This experiment with demonstrates the possibility of memcomputing."

Encoding information in the domain radius could allow researchers to create logic operations on a surface of ferroelectric material, thereby combining the locations of and processing.

The researchers note that although the system in principle has a universal computing ability, much more work is required to design a commercially attractive all-electronic computing device based on the domain interaction effect.

"These studies also make us rethink the role of surface and electrochemical phenomena in , since the domain interactions are directly traced to the behavior of surface screening charges liberated during electrochemical reaction coupled to the switching process," Kalinin said.

Explore further: Small and stable ferroelectric domains

More information: The study is published as "Intermittency, quasiperiodicity, and chaos during scanning probe microscopy tip-induced ferroelectric domain switching," and is available online: … /full/nphys2796.html

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1.4 / 5 (9) Nov 18, 2013
It seems they've miniaturized Excel spreadsheets into a physical analog.
2.1 / 5 (11) Nov 18, 2013
Does someone patrol the comments of all articles and 1-star everything? Seriously, in almost every article with comments (granted, not all that often) someone's gone and 1-starred every single comment. I don't get it, all y'alls comments aren't *that* bad.
2 / 5 (2) Nov 18, 2013
The possibilities of brain-like electronic computing are really astounding. Can't wait for it. Can you imagine having a world-class lawyer or doctor (simulation) for the price of a computer?

Also, is there a way to ban believers in aether wave theory (Walters1) from comments?
met a more fishes
1.3 / 5 (9) Nov 19, 2013
I agree that this sound like standard computing at the moment however I think it has potential. If the material discussed hereperforms the logic processes, by breaking and creating loops I guess, then you would need another component that directed the domain formation and responded to feedback from the system. This process can be regulated with a control system. If that control system can then be altered either in structure or function by a higher level control system which respond to feedback you may start to see something that its not neuronal
computing but not standard binary logic either.
5 / 5 (3) Nov 19, 2013
Also, is there a way to ban believers in aether wave theory (Walters1) from comments?

I think you should not put too much hope in the comments systems of scientific news websites. It's not really their priority. I suggest you just look for the corresponding entry in reddit and comment there.
not rated yet Nov 19, 2013
IMO it hints to computer-like computing, not brain-like one. The brain doesn't compute anything with hardwired logical functions.

I think it comes from the pattern shifting depending on the formation of the domains in the vicinity. That is, similar to the connections neurons form on the basis of those around it. Not sure that such an analogy is accurate but that is what I understood the article to be referring to. Rather than being straight state detection, you have to not only detect the state of the domain(s) but their relation to the domains surrounding *and* the patterns that formed between each domain. Scales to multitudes of possible values can be written & processed simultaneously. Speed is a different matter.

The logic doesn't appear to be vastly different, but it is closer to a content aware method of storage and processing than currently, which depends on delineation of process and storage.
1.4 / 5 (10) Nov 19, 2013
Does someone patrol the comments of all articles and 1-star everything?

Look at the Activity tab of user profiles. It's Global Warming Gorebot cultists and sockpuppet accounts.

All of these are regulars: NOM | Nikolaus | VendicarH | Zephir_fan | TheSicilian | Blotto.

2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 19, 2013
open | toot | lite among others.

Haven't seen some for awhile so they must have gotten bored.
1.4 / 5 (9) Nov 19, 2013
Ah digital logic from the picture at the top.

I remember that. Strangely theraputic working it all out.

Yeah physorg has massive problems with 2nd accounts (and 10th accounts) downvoting anyone who says anything scientific because they're butthurt they don't get recognised.

Physorg is pretty much a laughing stock comments wise, as 99% of it is general public pretending to play scientist and failing hilariously.
1 / 5 (7) Nov 19, 2013
This may have interesting consequences for biology, as the occurence of ferroelectricity in microtubili has been predicted by several authors. Maybe these really play an important computational role in cells. Moreover this seems to vindicate models of conciousness based on microtubili (e.g. Orch-OR).
1.4 / 5 (8) Nov 19, 2013
"When we reduced the distance between domains, we started to see things that should have been completely impossible" - interaction between magnetic domains is thought by scientist to be impossible? Those were not scientists, that is for sure as no true scientist would be so full of himself to proclaim such nonsense.

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