A water-based computer has been developed by researchers at Stanford University after nearly a decade of research and development. This device utilizes droplets of water to carry out the functions of a clock within the computer infrastructure.
Small iron bars were laid out on a glass slide, in a formation much like a maze found in a children's activity book. This was layered in oil and covered with a blank glass slide. Researchers then injected water, laced with magnetic nanoparticles, into the system.
Each time a magnetic field is turned on, the magnetized water droplets alter their polarity in a specified direction. When the field is switched off, the droplets flip again and move forward a single step, while droplets interacting with each other provide computational abilities. A camera recording the positions of the droplets is able to determine if the tiny bars are in one position or another, representing the ones and zeros of binary language.
Water droplets are used to represent bits of information, directed by a magnetic field to synchronize the packets of water, keeping their movements in precise timing. Clocks are essential to the computers that drive all modern electronics. Processors need to precisely synchronize the actions of several processes at once, which would not be possible without the use of clocks. Without the use of a precise timepiece, if any single computer process were to fall behind during operations, it could radically affect the other operations happening within the processor, grinding the computer to a standstill.
This new system can carry out any of the basic functions of computers, although at speeds far below that of traditional designs. However, the device is not likely to be surfing the Web anytime soon. The goal of the project was to design a computer capable of directly manipulating matter.
"Our goal is to build a completely new class of computers that can precisely control and manipulate physical matter. Imagine if when you run a set of computations that not only information is processed but physical matter is algorithmically manipulated as well," Manu Prakash, leader of the project, said.
Logic gates, a basic building block of computer circuits, represent certain logical operators, such as "and," "not" and "or." Researchers say any form of logic gate can be developed using water-based systems.
The first water-based processors measure roughly one inch on each side, and the droplets are about the size of kiwi seeds.
Video demonstrating the capabilities of the water-based computer is available on the Stanford University YouTube channel.
Development of the water-based computer was detailed in the journal Nature Physics.