Tiny Drops Of Water Can Be Used For Basic Computing

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Researchers at Aalto University have devised a way to convert tiny drops of water into encoded digital information, building a simple computer out of just water droplets and a water-repellant surface. A new study in the journal Advanced Materials demonstrates that, using a hydrophobic surface that causes water to bead up and roll off, researchers can follow the trails of individual water droplets along paths in the surface. That predictability allowed researchers to build simple computers like a memory device that tracks the droplets and encodes them as bits of information, with drops on one track representing ones and drops on the other representing zeroes. They even demonstrated machines that can use the technology to complete basic Boolean operations.

The new technology is known as “superhydrophobic droplet logic,” (which means that Beck will have to think of a new name for his next album) and it doesn’t stop at just encoding information. By creating  water droplets that carry chemical cargos and controlling where they went, the research team could even program chemical reactions.

The research released today is just a proof of concept for now, and it will be years before the technique sees any practical applications — if it ever does. It’s an interesting and heretofore unheard of concept, though, and one that if developed further could lead to simple logic devices that can run without any electrical power. The programmable chemical reactions hold even more promise, with the potential to see use in simple chemical analysis systems that could sniff out pollution or diagnose disease. For right now, you can take a look at the video below to see the new technique in action.

(via ScienceDaily, image courtesy of Aalto University)

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