Researchers at Northwestern University have published a paper in this month’s edition of Nature Nanotechnology that demonstrates a rather astonishing discovery. They’ve created a metamaterial that’s capable of steer electric currents in whichever direction is desired at the time – paving the way for a future in which computers can rewire themselves on the fly.
The material, which the researchers refer to as “nanoparticle-based electronics” is a pretty incredible innovation. It contains several electrodes, with immovable positively charged particles to attract electrons. The material also contains negatively charged ions, which can be moved with electric pulses to different parts of the surface. Depending on the configuration of the ions, the current between the electrodes will flow in different ways. As the ions move, old electric circuits are “erased” and new ones take their place.
What this means is that a computer equipped with this type of material could change its own circuitry to adapt to whatever is needed at the time. This would allow for much more flexibility in circuits. What’s more, if several different types of nanoparticles are used, it’s possible to create ever more complex structures, such as transistors and diodes.
I’m probably blazing way ahead of the state of the technology here, but if this turns out to be economical and scalable, I think we might have to get ready for a whole new class of machines. If circuitry itself can be rewritten, that takes software and hardware to whole new levels. Imagine in the future, your phone not only receiving a firmware update for its software, but also its circuits, because an electrical engineer figured out a more efficient way let a component perform its task! I think that might be a real possibility with this material.
This is an absolutely fascinating technology, and I’m definitely interested to see where it goes from here.