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24th Aug 2022

Scientists create material which can actually ‘think’

April Curtin

Picture of brain activity

Researchers believe it could really come in handy

Scientists claim to have engineered a material that is capable of being able to “think”.

The technology is based on integrated circuits, which usually rely on silicon semiconductors to process information, in a similar way to the human brain. They run all types of modern electronics, such as cars, phones and robots.

Integrated circuits are the vital part needed for computing of signals and information. Scientists have never realised this in any composition other than silicon semiconductors.

But, as research published in the scientific journal Nature explained on Wednesday, scientists from Penn State and the US Air Force discovered that “nearly any material” around us could act like its own integrated circuit – able to “think” about what is happening around it.

Ryan Harne, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State, said: “We have created the first example of an engineering material that can simultaneously sense, think and act upon mechanical stress without requiring additional circuits to process such signals.

“The soft polymer material acts like a brain that can receive digital strings of information that are then processed, resulting in new sequences of digital information that can control reactions.”

The material contains reconfigurable circuits that can receive external stimuli and turn it into electrical information that can be processed to create output signals.

Harne said the material uses a similar “thinking” process as humans, and could potentially be used in autonomous search-and-rescue systems, infrastructure repairs and bio-hybrid materials that can identify, isolate and neutralise airborne pathogens.

The team used research back from 1938 to harness the processing of mechanical information and develop it into its now-advanced form.

Scientists are now aiming to develop the material so it can “see” in the same way it “feels” physical signals.

Professor Harne said: “We are currently translating this to a means of ‘seeing’ to augment the sense of ‘touching’ we have presently created.”

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