A computer that operates using the unique physics of moving water droplets has been developed by an Indian-origin scientist and his team.
The computer incubated from an idea that struck Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, when he was a graduate student. The work combines his expertise in manipulating droplet fluid dynamics with a fundamental element of computer science – an operating clock.
Prakash and his team decided to build a rotating magnetic field that could act as clock to synchronise all the droplets. Then they carefully injected into the mix individual water droplets that had been infused with tiny magnetic nanoparticles.
Next, they turned on the magnetic field. Every time the field flips, the polarity of the bars reverses, drawing the magnetised droplets in a new, predetermined direction.
A camera records the interactions between individual droplets, allowing observation of computation as it occurs in real time.
The presence or absence of a droplet represents the 1s and 0s of binary code, and the clock ensures that all the droplets move in perfect synchrony, and thus the system can run virtually forever without any errors.
The most immediate application might involve turning the computer into a high-throughput chemistry and biology laboratory. Instead of running reactions in bulk test tubes, each droplet can carry some chemicals and become its own test tube, and the droplet computer offers unprecedented control over these interactions.
The droplet computer can theoretically perform any operation that a conventional electronic computer can crunch, although at significantly slower rates.