Mathematicians suggest liquid crystals could be used to create building blocks for a new kind of computer

A pair of mathematicians suggest liquid crystals could be used to create the building blocks of a new kind of computer

Nbits pinned to an LC fault line. The local nematic steering field n(r), indicated by cylindrical bars, rotates by π along closed curves encircling the fault line (black). The director field is colored by its out-of-plane component, nz(r), while the xy planes are colored by the azimuthal orientation of the director nϕ(r) relative to the x axis. The profile of the near field director (red) close to the fault line defines the nbit state. The vertical direction can be interpreted as a spatial or temporal dimension. Credit: Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abp8371

A pair of MIT researchers have found evidence to suggest a new type of computer could be built using liquid crystals rather than silicon. In their article published in the journal Scientists progressŽiga Kos and Jörn Dunkel describe a possible design for a computer that takes advantage of slight differences in the orientation of the molecules that make up liquid crystals and the advantages such a system would have over those currently in use.

Most modern computer screens are made using liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Such displays are made by growing crystals in a flat plane. These crystals are made up of rod-shaped molecules that line up in a parallel fashion (those that line up the wrong way are removed). The orientation of molecules in LCD screens are not all perfect alignments, of course, but they are close enough to allow sharp imaging.

In this new effort, Kos and Dunkel suggest that it should be possible to take advantage of these slight misalignments to create a new way of storing and manipulating computer data. They note that such a computer could code a unique value for each type of misalignment to hold a bit of data. So a computer using this approach wouldn’t be limited to conventional binary bits – it could have a whole host of options, perhaps making it much faster than the machines in use today (depending on how fast the guidelines could be modified).

The orientations of molecules could be manipulated, they note, using an electric field and, in doing so, perform calculations similar to those performed with standard logic gates. The researchers note that, in their approach, the stones would appear as ripples moving through the crystal.

To find out if their approach would work, the researchers first developed theories to describe how such calculations would take place. They then created simulations based on their theories (showing a four-nbit configuration realizing universal classical NOR and NAND gates) and found that their ideas sounded solid. They suggest their approach is ready to be tested if a team of engineers are interested.

Liquid crystal monomers used in LCD screens have been shown to be potentially persistent and bioaccumulative

More information:
Žiga Kos et al, Nematic Bits and Universal Logic Gates, Scientists progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abp8371

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