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Electrons steered through new nanomaterial

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Boffins have developed a new nanoscale material that could potentially allow computers to rewire themselves according to the user's needs.

Scientists at Northwestern University decided to look at the problem of teeny-tiny circuits in ever-shrinking electronic devices in a new way, by coming up with a material that can be a resistor, a rectifier, a diode or a transistor depending on signals from a computer.

"Our new steering technology allows use to direct current flow through a piece of continuous material," said Bartosz A Grzybowski, the top brain on the research. "Like redirecting a river, streams of electrons can be steered in multiple directions through a block of the material - even multiple streams flowing in opposing directions at the same time."

The researchers put together some silicon-based and some polymer-based circuits to come up with nanoparticle-based electronics.

This new material consists of electrically conductive particles, five nanometres wide, coated with a positively charged chemical. These particles are swimming in a sea of negatively charged atoms, which are reconfigured as needed by applying an electrical charge.

The first study, in which the scientists made preliminary electronic components, explained:

By moving this sea of negative atoms around the material, regions of low and high conductance can be modulated; the result is the creation of a directed path that allows electrons to flow through the material. Old paths can be erased and new paths created by pushing and pulling the sea of negative atoms. More complex electrical components, such as diodes and transistors, can be made when multiple types of nanoparticles are used.

David A Walker, another boffin on the research, said the material could be used to allow a computer to rewire itself.

"Besides acting as three-dimensional bridges between existing technologies, the reversible nature of this new material could allow a computer to redirect and adapt its own circuitry to what is required at a specific moment in time," he explained.

The paper was published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. ®

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