Computers and water are highly unrelated. But in Manu Prakash’s lab, these two tend to coincide.
Manu Prakash, who is an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford, along with his team of students, has developed a synchronous computer that operates using the unique physics of moving water droplets. This project involves Prakash’s expertise in manipulating droplet fluid dynamics with a fundamental element of computer science – an operating clock. Because of the universal nature of the droplet logic and control, this computer has the capability to perform any operation that a conventional computer can. The only difference lies in its slow speed. The main idea is to develop a new class of computers that can control and manipulate physical matter. By way of his experiments and researches, Prakash, along with his team, realised the importance of a clock that is essential to synchronize every operation of the computer. They decided to build a rotating magnetic field. The magnetic field would synchronize the water droplets, just as a clock. They built arrays of tiny iron bars on glass slides. They laid a blank glass slide on top and added a layer of oil in between. Further, droplets with tiny magnetic nanoparticles were injected in the mix. The magnetic field is then put on. Each rotation of the field equals one clock cycle. The presence of each droplet reflects the 1s and 0s of binary code. This way the clock certified that all droplets move in perfect synchrony. The control of magnetic field on millions of water droplets makes this system extraordinarily scalable. The most immediate use of this computer can be made in chemistry and biology laboratories. Since the system is exceptionally durable and strong, the team is planning to make available to the public a design tool for these droplet circuits.
By: Anuja Arora