Shape-shifting chips change form on the fly

Scientists have been working on a new nanomaterial which could be the basis of computing devices which can reconfigure themselves on the fly.

This has the potential for a new generation of electronics which can shuffle its internal wiring to function as an entirely different device.  In other words, a device could shake up its internal makeup to more adequately meet the needs of a specific task.

A team at the Northwestern University say the nanomaterial is able to steer electrical currents through a material, changing a device into a resistor, rectifier, diode or transistor depending on signals from a computer.

The hybrid material consists of conductive particle five nanometres wide, coated in an electrically charged chemical.  This is then surrounded by a multitude of negatively charged atoms that balance out the positive charge.

When an electrical current is applied to the material, the negatively charged particles can be moved and reconfigured, though the larger, positively charged ones stay in the same position.

This means that you can change the level of conductance, resulting in a directed path which allows the free flow of electrons through the material.  Complex components used in computing can then be assembled through multiple types of nanoparticles, the researchers say, resulting in familiar components such as transistors or diodes.

Interestingly, the path of a flow can be erased and redirected over and over again by shifting the negative atoms, meaning that the configuration can change numerous times depending on what a computer needs to do.

Professor Bartosz A. Grzybowski who led the research, believes the method is like ”redirecting a river”, with streams of electrons which can be “steered in multiple directions through a block of the material”.