Computer chips could be made faster by giving them honey – according to new research.
Already known to help stabilise blood sugar and improve heart conditions, Washington State University engineers have demonstrated in a study published in Journal of Physics D that honey can also be good for computers.
Experts used the stuff to create a memristor – a component similar to a transistor that mimics the human brain by both processing and storing data.
Hailed by some as the future of computing, neuromorphic systems designed to mimic the neurons and synapses found in the human brain are much faster and use much less power than traditional computers.
Feng Zhao, associate professor of Washington State University’s (WSU) School of Engineering and Computer Science and corresponding author on the study, said: “This is a very small device with a simple structure, but it has very similar functionalities to a human neuron.
“This means if we can integrate millions or billions of these honey memristors together, then they can be made into a neuromorphic system that functions much like a human brain.”
The researchers created memristors by processing honey into a solid form and sandwiching it between two metal electrodes, making a structure similar to a human synapse.
They then tested the honey memristors’ ability to mimic the work of synapses with high switching-on-and-off speeds of 100 and 500 nanoseconds respectively.
The human brain has more than 100 billion neurons, with more than 1,000 trillion synapses, or connections, among them.
Each neuron can both process and store data, which makes the brain much more efficient than a traditional computer, and developers of neuromorphic computing systems aim to mimic that structure.
The memristors also emulated the synapse functions known as spike-timing dependent plasticity and spike-rate dependent plasticity, which are responsible for learning processes in human brains and retaining new information in neurons.
Several companies, including Intel and IBM, have released neuromorphic chips that have the equivalent of more than 100 million “neurons” per chip, but this is not yet near the number in the brain. Many developers are also still using the same nonrenewable and toxic materials that are currently used in conventional computer chips.
The WSU engineers created the honey memristors on a micro-scale, so they are about the size of a human hair. The research team led by Zhao plans to develop them on a nanoscale – about one thousandth of a human hair – and bundle many millions or even billions together to make a full neuromorphic computing system.
Zhao is also leading investigations into using proteins and other sugars, such as those found in Aloe vera leaves, in this capacity, but he sees strong potential in honey.
He said: “Honey does not spoil. It has a very low moisture concentration, so bacteria cannot survive in it. This means these computer chips will be very stable and reliable for a very long time.”
The honey memristor chips developed at WSU should tolerate the lower levels of heat generated by neuromorphic systems, which do not get as hot as traditional computers. The honey memristors will also cut down on electronic waste.
He said: “When we want to dispose of devices using computer chips made of honey, we can easily dissolve them in water.
“Because of these special properties, honey is very useful for creating renewable and biodegradable neuromorphic systems.”
Just like conventional computers, though, users will still have to avoid spilling their coffee on them.
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Story By: Shantanu Guha Ray, Sub-Editor: William McGee, Agency: Newsflash
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