Scientists at Northwestern University have developed a new nanomaterial that can “steer” electrical currents, which could lead to a computer that can simply reconfigure its internal wiring and become an entirely different device, based on changing needs.
As electronic devices 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 re-configurable electronic materials: 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,” he stated
Grzybowski is professor of chemical and biological engineering 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.
“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.
The study will be published online Oct. 16 by the journal Nature Nanotechnology.