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Just Add Water: Stanford Engineers Develop a Computer That Operates on Water Droplets

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Adding drops of water to a special synchronous computer.

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a synchronous computer based on the physics of moving water droplets.

Credit: Stanford News

Stanford University researchers have developed a synchronous computer that operates using the physics of moving water droplets. The researchers say the droplet computer theoretically can perform any operation that a conventional electronic computer can analyze, although at a significantly slower rate.

"Our goal is to build a completely new class of computers that can precisely control and manipulate physical matter," says Stanford professor Manu Prakash.

Almost every computer program requires several simultaneous operations, each conducted in a step-by-step process. A clock ensures these operations start and stop at the same times, which guarantees the information synchronizes. However, creating a clock for a fluid-based computer required a rotating magnetic field. The researchers built arrays of tiny iron bars on glass slides, and then laid blank glass slides on top with a layer of oil in between. The researchers then injected magnetic nanoparticle-infused water droplets into the system and turned on the magnetic field. Every time the field flips, the polarity of the bars reverses, signaling one clock cycle. Every water droplet moves exactly one step forward with each cycle. The presence or absence of a droplet represents the 1s and 0s of binary code, and the clock makes sure all of the droplets move in synchrony, allowing the system to run virtually forever without any errors.

From Stanford Report
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