Researchers create functioning synapse using carbon nanotubes. Devices might be used in brain prostheses – or combined into massive network of synthetic neurons to create a synthetic brain.
Engineering researchers at USC Viterbi have made a significant breakthrough in the use of nanotechnologies for the construction of a synthetic brain. They have built a carbon nanotube synapse circuit whose behavior in tests reproduces the function of a neuron input, the synapse, the a building block of the brain.
The team, which was led by Professor Alice Parker and Professor Chongwu Zhou in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, used an interdisciplinary approach combining circuit design with nanotechnology to address the complex problem of capturing brain function.
In a paper published in the proceedings of the Life Science Systems and Applications Workshop in April 2011, the Viterbi team detailed how they were able to use carbon nanotubes to create a synapse. Carbon nanotubes are molecular carbon structures that are extremely small, with a diameter a million times smaller than a pencil point. These nanotubes can be used in electronic circuits, acting as metallic conductors or semiconductors.
For Jonathan Joshi, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. student who is a co-author of the paper, the interdisciplinary approach to the problem was key to the initial progress. Joshi said that working with Zhou and his group of nanotechnology researchers provided the ideal dynamic of circuit technology and nanotechnology.
“The interdisciplinary approach is the only approach that will lead to a solution. We need more than one type of engineer working on this solution,” said Joshi. “We should constantly be in search of new technologies to solve this problem.”
The research is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Women in Science and Engineering program at USC.
Contact: Eric Mankin firstname.lastname@example.org 213-821-1887 University of Southern California