Future computer chips could be made from honey

According to researchers at Washington State University (WSU), the future of neuromorphic computer chips may lie in…honey.

Scientists involved in the study claim that this technology could pave the way for durable, biodegradable and extremely fast computing.

Intel's Loihi 2 neuromorphic chip at your fingertips.

Honey isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a computer chip, but WSU engineers believe it could be the key to making computing environmentally friendly while being sufficiently powerful to mimic the functioning of a human brain. This form of computing, designed to simulate the functioning of neurons in our brain, is called neuromorphic.

While many of us are in awe of the state-of-the-art computers these days (let this new honey-based discovery prove it), our own brains are even more impressive. This is why neuromorphic computing is sometimes seen as the future of technology – because the human brain can still process, analyze and adapt to what it sees in ways that a computer cannot. . Although computers can process huge amounts of data much faster than a human being could, we still retain the upper hand when it comes to approaching problems creatively.

Neuromorphic computing is meant to serve as a bridge between the human brain and technology, enabling autonomous systems capable of simulating something close to human cognition. Such systems are supposed to be much faster and less power-hungry than even the best PCs currently available. Now, it looks like honey could play a role in making these futuristic devices far more sustainable for our planet.

A memristor is capable of both processing and storing data in memory, much like a human brain.

WSU engineers were able to create a working memristor from honey. A memristor is a component similar to a transistor, and it is capable of both processing and storing data in memory, much like a human brain. These devices are infinitely small – in the case of this study, the memristor was the width of a human hair, but it needs to be much smaller for it to serve in the future.

The target size will be around 1/1000 of a human hair, which means that these memristors will have to be developed at the nanoscale. Indeed, millions, if not billions, of memristors will be used to build a complete, functional, high-performance neuromorphic computing system. By comparison, the human brain has more than 100 billion neurons, or more than 1,000 trillion synapses.

Feng Zhao, an associate professor at Washington State University School of Engineering and Computer Science, was the study’s co-author alongside graduate student Brandon Sueoka. Zhao compared the honey-made memristor to a human neuron, stating that it has very similar functionality while maintaining a very small size.

CPU Computer Chip being put in place with tweezers.
Krystianna Wrocki/Getty Images

In order to achieve the desired effect, scientists used real honey. They transformed it into a solid form which was then placed between two metal electrodes – a simulation of a human synapse. Through research, they were able to discover that memristor honey successfully mimics the functioning of human synapses. This was measured by the device’s ability to turn on and off quickly at a speed similar to that of the human brain – between 100 and 500 nanoseconds.

It does seem like honey memristors might hold promise in terms of performance in neuromorphic computing, but they have another obvious advantage: they are fully biodegradable. While the team has also explored the use of other organic materials, such as proteins and sugars, honey appears to be the winner so far.

“Honey doesn’t spoil. It has a very low concentration of moisture, so bacteria cannot survive there. This means that these computer chips will be very stable and reliable for a very long time,” Feng Zhao said. “When we want to get rid of devices using computer chips made of honey, we can easily dissolve them in water. Due to these special properties, honey is very useful for creating renewable and biodegradable neuromorphic systems.

The team published their findings in an issue of the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics. Of course, researchers still have a long way to go before implementing this technology close to something that could be used by the industry as a whole. However, the crucial first steps have already been taken. The next time you add a spoonful of honey to your tea, consider that one day (in the distant future, mind you) you might be using a computer that runs on that same substance.

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