Scientists have achieved the goal of creating a nano-scale “chemical brain” that can transmit instructions to multiple (at present as many as 16) molecular “machines” simultaneously. The new molecular processor means that nano-chemical computation may soon be possible, ushering in a new era in super-light, super-fast, more versatile computer processing capabilities and, by extension, robotics.

The BBC reports that:

The machine is made from 17 molecules of the chemical duroquinone. Each one is known as a “logic device”.

They each resemble a ring with four protruding spokes that can be independently rotated to represent four different states.

One duroquinone molecule sits at the centre of a ring formed by the remaining 16. All are connected by chemical bonds, known as hydrogen bonds.

The structure is just 2 nanometers in diameter, and can produce 4 billion different permutations of chemical transmission of “information”. This allows for a far more efficient distribution of information than a traditional binary circuit.

The researchers say the structure of the “chemical brain” was inspired by the activity of glial cells in the human brain. Glial cells are non-neuronal “glue” or connective cells. In the brain, they are estimated to outnumber neurons by 10 to 1 and assist in chemical transmission of neural signals. Their ability to transmit signals in parallel, or to multiple tangent cells at once, reportedly gave rise to the 17-molecule duroquinone design.

In recent years, the ability of research teams and engineers to keep pace with “Moore’s law” —which predicts that computing speed (by way of the reduction in size of processing units or the increasing density of circuits possible in a given space) will double roughly every 18 months— has been tested, due to heat-diffusion constraints and the related energy bleed.

nano-comp-562x316Nano-chemical processors would enable an entirely new structure for the smallest-scale computing circuits, and could lead to serious advances in the nature and capabilities of microprocessors, which are far larger in size and could therefore contain many times more circuits than at present.

The researchers have reportedly already moved beyond the initial 17-molecule design, capable of processing 16 instructions simultaneously, to devices capable of 256 simultaneous transmissions. They are also designing a molecular device that would be capable of up to 1024 simultaneous transmissions.

Written by Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He is the lead strategist supporting the Acceleration Dialogues (diplomatic climate-solutions roundtables) and Resilience Intel—an effort to move the world to 100% climate-smart finance. Joseph represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, the UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes, and is founder of the Geoversiv Foundation and Live Your Democracy—an online periodical promoting engaged, non-partisan civics. His articles appear from time to time in the Guardian.

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