USC engineers build synthetic synapse with carbon nanotubes

May 2, 2011 by Amara D. Angelica

Synthetic synapse using field effect transistor built with carbon nanotubes, titanium/platinum contacts, and silicon dioxide gate dielectric (credit: USC Viterbi School of Engineering)

Engineering researchers at the University of Southern California have built a carbon nanotube circuit that reproduces the function of a neural synapse.

“This is a necessary first step in the process,” said Professor Alice Parker, who began the complex project of looking at the possibility of developing a synthetic brain in 2006.

“We wanted to answer the question: Can you build a circuit that would act like a neuron?” she said.

“The next step is even more complex. How can we build structures out of these circuits that mimic the neuron, and eventually the function of the brain, which has 100 billion neurons and 10,000 synapses?”

Parker emphasized that the fabricated synapse is simplified. The actual development of a synthetic brain is decades away, and she said the next hurdle for the research centers on reproducing brain plasticity in the circuits.

She believes the ongoing research of understanding the process of human intelligence could have long-term implications for everything from developing prosthetic nanotechnology that would heal traumatic brain injuries to developing intelligent, safe cars that would protect drivers in bold new ways.

This development raises several questions, which I’ll address in the next post.

Amara D. Angelica is Editor of KurzweilAI