Water-Powered Processors Expected to be the Next Breakthrough in Semiconductor Technology

Our electronics are powered by semiconductors based on silicon, made up of glass and sand. The basic analogy is that, our CPUs consist of billions of transistors which are like gates. These gates can be turned OFF (0) or ON (1) determined via the flow of electrons. We recommend giving a watch to Veritasium for a much more detailed overview regarding this topic.

The Next Major Breakthrough

We know that electrons travel at near light speed offering the best solution as of now. However, scientists have been researching a design using ions instead of electrons. Our brain processes information via the manipulation of ions as well. Over at Harvard, a post came up showcasing how this idea could possibly work for CPUs.

A team of researchers at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), in collaboration with DNA Script developed an ionic chip. This circuit or chip consists of 100s of ionic transistors aimed for neural networking.

The transistors consist of such a solution that can conduct electricity, featuring 2 ring electrodes and another electrode at the center. The pH varies according to the concentration of Hydrogen ions. Therefore, the 2 ring electrodes can manipulate the pH around the center electrode by simply trapping Hydrogen ions.

A Few Diagrams Explaining the Ionic Processor | Harvard

A voltage is applied at the center electrode, leading to the generation of current from the wafer into the water. The rate of this reaction will vary according to the pH, which as mentioned above, can be controlled. In short, the current produced can be directly controlled by adjusting the local pH levels.  

The pH Gated Ionic Transistor

The scientists then went on to engineer such a pH gated ionic transistor. The disk current is the arithmetic multiplication of the disk voltage and a quote unquote ‘weight parameter‘ representing the pH around the transistor. These transistors were packed into a 16×16 array for analog matrix multiplication. This is an analog chip which is not at fast as digital, however, it is much more efficient.

“So far, we have used only 3 to 4 ionic species, such as hydrogen and quinone ions, to enable the gating and ionic transport in the aqueous ionic transistor,” said Jung. “It will be very interesting to employ more diverse ionic species and to see how we can exploit them to make rich the contents of information to be processed.”

The future looks bright for microprocessors with the rising need of a new material other than Silicon. Many speculate that Germanium may be the next in the line if silicon faces major roadblocks.


Abdullah Faisal

With a love for computers since the age of five, Abdullah has always sought to delve into the depths of information, and uses it as his guiding light. He believes success is of utmost importance as history is written by the victor.
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