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Current-steering nanomaterial could lead to self-rewiring electronics

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October 19, 2011

By applying electrical pulses to the new nanomaterial, a sea of small negatively charged i...

By applying electrical pulses to the new nanomaterial, a sea of small negatively charged ions (blue) can be pushed and pulled between larger, positively charged nanoparticles (red) which are 'jammed' in place (Image: Northwestern University)

By now, we're all fairly used to electronic devices such as smartphones, which can act as a mobile phone, computer, camera and navigation unit all at once. These devices, while multi-functional, still use different hard-wired electrical circuits for their different functions. Thanks to research being carried out at Chicago's Northwestern University, however, all those functions may one day be able to utilize the same physical piece of electronic material - the electrical current would simply be "steered" through it differently, depending on what was needed. This means that a single section of the material could act as a resistor, rectifier, diode or transistor, as instructed by a computer.

The hybrid material is made up of five-nanometer-wide electrically conductive particles, coated with a positively charged chemical. A sea of negatively-charged atoms surrounds these particles, balancing out their positive charge. When an electrical current is applied, the small negative atoms can be moved, while the larger positive particles stay put.

Depending on how the atoms are moved around within the material, areas of high and low conductance are created. By arranging these areas strategically, pathways are created for electrons to follow through the material. These pathways can be erased simply by rearranging the atoms, and then new pathways can be formed. Multiple pathways can carry electrons through the same block of material at one time, even flowing in opposite directions.

For more complex electronics, multiple types of particles could be incorporated.

A paper on the new technology, which the Northwestern researchers refer to as "nanoparticle-based electronics," was just published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
4 Comments

OK.. combine these kinds of circuits with an AI capable of self-learning, and you have everybody's worst nightmares..

Skynet, anyone?

sgdeluxedoc
20th October, 2011 @ 10:08 am PDT

LOL had exactly same thoughts as "sgdeluxedoc" scary

Kirill Belousov
20th October, 2011 @ 01:28 pm PDT

OK, this one is cool--malleable electronics.

Arf
20th October, 2011 @ 01:56 pm PDT

Futuristic !

Anbu Pandian
24th October, 2011 @ 07:28 am PDT
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