For the first time, researchers used electric fields and ultraviolet light to perform computational logic operations on a liquid-crystal-based chemical device. The device (and methods used) open up new research opportunities, such as low-power, high-performance computer chips.
The team created a device that demonstrates computation-related functions. Conventional computers use an electric charge to represent binary digits. Still, the researchers’ device uses electric fields and UV light to represent binary digits, which could allow for lower power operation and generate less heat than logic based on electric charge.
The device is also fundamentally different from current semiconductor chips because it is chemical; this property lends itself to its potential computational utility. Aside from the power and heat benefits, the device is cheap and easy to produce. Under the right conditions, the device’s disk and rod-shaped molecules self-assemble into spiral staircase-like shapes known as columnar liquid crystals (CLCs).
Before starting a logic operation, the researchers sandwiched a sample of CLCs between two glass plates covered in electrodes. Polarized light passes through the sample and is detected on the other side by a detector. The CLCs in the sample’s default state is randomly oriented, allowing light to reach the detector. The detected output remains constant when individually turning the electric fields or the UV light on and off.