Carbon Nanotube for “unconventional” Computing

Carbon Nanotube for “unconventional” Computing


Currently silicon-based transistor is the
fundamental building block of electronic devices. As we approach the miniaturization limits
of conventional electronics, now researchers are exploring alternatives to silicon-based
transistors. Inspired by the way living organisms have
evolved in nature to perform complex tasks with remarkable ease, a group of researchers
is exploring similar “evolutionary” methods to create information processing devices. In the Journal of Applied Physics, the group
describes using single-walled carbon nanotube composites (SWCNTs) as a material in “unconventional”
computing. By studying the mechanical and electrical properties of the materials, they
discovered a correlation between carbon nanotube concentration/viscosity/conductivity and the
computational capability of the composite. Instead of creating circuits from arrays of
discrete components like transistors, their work takes a random disordered material and
then ‘trains’ the material to produce a desired output. This emerging field of research is known as
“evolution-in-materio”. An interdisciplinary field blends together materials science, engineering
and computer science. Although still in its early stages, the concept has already shown
that by using an approach similar to natural evolution, materials can be trained to mimic
electronic circuits — without needing to design the material structure in a specific
way. The material used by the researchers, is a
mixture of carbon nanotubes and polymer, which creates a complex electrical structure. 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 research 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.

Daniel Ostrander

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