Nanowire-memristor networks emulate brain functions

April 11, 2013

Image of a nanowire network (credit: CRANN)

A Trinity College Dublin chemistry professor has been awarded a €2.5 million ($3.2 million) research grant by the European Research Council (ERC) to continue research into nanowire networks.

Professor John Boland, Director of CRANN, a nanoscience institute, and a Professor in the School of Chemistry, said the research could result in computer networks that mimic the functions of the human brain and vastly improve on current computer capabilities such as facial recognition.

Nanowires, made of materials such as copper or silicon, are just a few atoms thick and can be readily engineered into networks. Researchers worldwide are investigating the possibility that nanowires hold the future of energy production (solar cells) and could deliver the next generation of computers.

Boland has discovered that exposing a random network of nanowires to stimuli like electricity, light and chemicals generates a chemical reaction at the junctions of the nanowires, corresponding to synapses in the brain. By controlling the stimuli, it is possible to harness these reactions to manipulate the connectivity within the network. This could eventually allow computations that mimic the functions of neurons — particularly the development of associative memory functions.

“This funding from the European Research Council allows me to continue my work to deliver the next generation of computing, which differs from the traditional digital approach, said Boland. “My research will create nanowire networks that have the potential to mimic aspects of the neurological functions of the human brain, which may revolutionize the performance of current day computers.   It could be truly ground-breaking.”

The project combines work in nanowires and memristors, which can “remember” a charge.