Indian-origin scientist Manu Prakash developed World's first water-based computer

They have built a synchronous computer that operates using the unique physics of moving water droplets.

Jun 10, 2015 18:10 IST
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Indian-origin scientist Manu Prakash along with his team on 10 June 2015 developed World's first water-based computer. The results were published in the journal Nature Physics. Manu Prakash is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University.

They have built a synchronous computer that operates using the unique physics of moving water droplets.

The work combines Prakash's expertise in manipulating droplet fluid dynamics with a fundamental element of computer science - an operating clock.

How the computer was made?

The first step towards making a computer based on water droplet was to develop an operating computer clock which is responsible for nearly every modern convenience. A clock makes sure that these operations start and stop at the same times, thus ensuring that the information synchronizes.

Further, the clock needed to be easy to manipulate, and also able to influence multiple droplets at a time. The system also needed to be scalable so that in the future, a large number of droplets could communicate amongst each other without skipping a beat. This was realized through developing a rotating magnetic field.

Katsikis and Prakash built arrays of tiny iron bars on glass slides that look something like a Pac-Man maze. They laid a blank glass slide on top and sandwiched a layer of oil in between. 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 magnetized droplets in a new, predetermined direction, like slot cars on a track. Every rotation of the field counts as one clock cycle, like a second hand making a full circle on a clock face, and every drop marches exactly one step forward with each cycle.

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.

Its application

Because of its universal nature, the droplet computer can theoretically perform any operation that a conventional electronic computer can crunch, although at significantly slower rates.

The ability to precisely control droplets using fluidic computation could have a number of applications in high-end biology and chemistry and scalable digital manufacturing.

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