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Logic-gate 'supermolecules' play noughts & crosses

Chemical nanobrains 'clever as kids'

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The Royal Society of Chemistry has awarded a Belfast-based boffin a prize for developing "intelligent supermolecules" which are on an intellectual level with (some) human children - able to win games of noughts and crosses.

The unfeasibly tiny nanobrain developments sprang from the normal-sized brain of Professor A Prasanna de Silva of Queen's Uni, recipient of the 2008 RSC Sensors Award, and those of his collaborators.

The latest developments build on fluorescent sensor molecules previously developed by de Silva's team, which have already seen widespread use in medical diagnostic equipment. These "catch and tell" molecules emit light when they encounter specific chemicals in a blood sample. Now, Prof de Silva and his fellow boffins have apparently devised even niftier glow-molecules which can act as logic gates.

"Logic gates are what drive current computers," says the prof. "The first molecular logic gates were built in Belfast a few years back and a range of gates such as YES, NOT, AND, OR, NOR and INHIBIT are now available ... These artificial systems use chemical inputs and light output, reversing the natural roles existing within the eye.

"One of our own contributions has been to persuade molecules to perform arithmetic operations. Small molecules can now add one and one to get two, just like children. It is clear that small molecules can perform small-scale computational operations in small spaces where semiconductors cannot go in spite of all their power."

According to the Queen's Uni release, other smarty-cules developed in the States from Belfast research can "play games like tic-tac-toe and win against human opponents".

It seems that the RSC prize brings Professor de Silva £500 and "a silver medal", which is nice. Also, the existing blood-chemistry cassette tech has apparently done $40m of sales since 1997. ®

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