Stanford bioengineers have created world's first synchronous computer that operates using water droplets! The goal is to create a new class of computers that can precisely control and manipulate physical matter. Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford, explains this type of computer can run a set of computations that that not only processes information but algorithmically manipulates physical matter as well. The discovery could have a number of applications in high-throughput biology and chemistry, and possibly new applications in scalable digital manufacturing.
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For nearly a decade since he was in graduate school, an idea has been nagging at Prakash: What if he could use little droplets as bits of information and utilize the precise movement of those drops to process both information and physical materials simultaneously. Eventually, Prakash decided to build a rotating magnetic field that could act as clock to synchronize all the droplets. The idea showed promise, and in the early stages of the project, Prakash recruited a graduate student, Georgios "Yorgos" Katsikis, who is the first author on the paper.
The current chips are about half the size of a postage stamp, and the droplets are smaller than poppy seeds, but Katsikis said that the physics of the system suggests it can be made even smaller. Combined with the fact that the magnetic field can control millions of droplets simultaneously, this makes the system exceptionally scalable.