Carbon nanotubes could lead to new ‘unconventional’ miniature computers

Single-walled carbon nanotube composites could be used as a material in “unconventional” computing, scientists say.

In the Journal of Applied Physics, researchers from Durham University in the UK and the University of São Paulo-USP in Brazil, say the mechanical and electrical properties of the nanotubes could be used to replace traditional components.

“Instead of creating circuits from arrays of discrete components (transistors in digital electronics), our work takes a random disordered material and then ‘trains’ the material to produce a desired output,” said Mark K. Massey, research associate, School of Engineering and Computing Sciences at Durham University.

The new materials could provide solutions to miniaturisation limits of conventional electronics, the researchers say.

“The material we use in our work is a mixture of carbon nanotubes and polymer, which creates a complex electrical structure,” explained Massey. “When voltages are applied at points of the material, its electrical properties change. When the correct signals are applied to the material, it can be trained or ‘evolved’ to perform a useful function.”

While the group doesn’t expect to see their method compete with high-speed silicon computers, it could turn out to be a complementary technology.

“With more research, it could lead to new techniques for making electronics devices,” he noted. The approach may find applications within the realm of “analog signal processing or low-power, low-cost devices in the future.”

Beyond pursuing the current methodology of evolution-in-materio, the next stage of the group’s research will be to investigate evolving devices as part of the material fabrication “hardware-in-the-loop” evolution. “This exciting approach could lead to further enhancements in the field of evolvable electronics,” said Massey.

You can read the article, “Computing with Carbon Nanotubes: Optimization of Threshold Logic Gates using Disordered Nanotube/Polymer Composites,” here.

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