A groundbreaking discovery at the University of Limerick in Ireland has revealed for the first time that unconventional brain-like computation can be achieved even on the tiny scale of atoms and molecules.
Researchers from the Bernal Institute of the University of Limerick they worked with an international team of scientists. The target? Create a new type of organic material capable of "learning" from its past behavior.
They call it a "dynamic molecular switch", and describe its discovery and characteristics in a new study in the international journal Nature Materials.
A systematic review
The multinational team led by Damien Thompson, Christian Nijhuis ed Enrique del Barco it has developed a two-nanometer-thick layer of molecules (50.000 times thinner than a strand of hair) that "remembers" its history as electrons pass through it.
'The values of the on/off states are constantly changing in this material,' explains Professor Thompson. "Which provides a disruptive new alternative to conventional silicon-based digital switches, which can only be turned on or off."
The dynamic organic switch can emulate, in essence, Pavlovian "call and response" brain-like synaptic behavior.
Calculation as in brain
To emulate the dynamic behavior of synapses at the molecular level, the researchers combined rapid electron transfer (similar to rapid depolarization processes in biology) with slow diffusion-limited proton coupling (similar to the role of neurotransmitters).
'The community has long known that silicon technology works completely different from how our brains work,' the researchers say.
For this we have used new types of electronic materials based on 'soft' molecules to emulate brain-like computer networks.
This truly breakthrough opens up an entirely new range of adaptive and reconfigurable systems, creating new opportunities in sustainable and green chemistry, from the more efficient flow chemical production of pharmaceuticals and other value-added chemicals to the development of new organic materials for the processing and memory density of large data centers.
In other words, it paves the way for more sustainable computing.
"This is just the beginning," Thompson explains. "We are already committed to expanding this new generation of smart molecular materials, which will enable the development of sustainable alternative technologies to address major energy, environmental and health challenges."