Unless you’ve dropped your phone in the toilet, you hardly ever see computer electronics mixed with water. But scientists at Stanford University have developed a computer that uses the unique physics of moving water droplets.
By precisely controlling the droplets using a technique called fluidic computation, assistant professor of bioengineering Manu Prakash and his team have created a new class of computers that can manipulate physical matter.
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Such a computer could play a big role in analyzing biological or chemical samples.
It begins with a glass slide no bigger than a postage stamp that contains a kind of maze made from iron bars. Another glass slide is put on like a lid and the middle is filled with a layer of oil.
Water droplets no bigger than poppy seeds are infused with tiny magnetic nanoparticles and then injected into the oil.
A rotating magnetic is then introduced. As it rotates, the magnetic field flips, pulling the magnetized droplets in a predetermined direction.
Each rotation of the magnetic field counts as a clock cycle — something all computers have — and the presence or absence of a droplet represents the 1s and 0s of binary code in computer language.
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Remarkably, the magnetic field is able to control millions of droplets simultaneously.
According to Science Daily:
“…the most immediate application might involve turning the computer into a high-throughput chemistry and biology laboratory. Instead of running reactions in bulk test tubes, each droplet can carry some chemicals and become its own test tube, and the droplet computer offers unprecedented control over these interactions.”