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Synthetic Brain Cells

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Scientists have created key parts of synthetic brain cells that can hold cellular “memories” for milliseconds. This can enable us to create computers that work like the human brain. These components, used to model artificial brain cells, use charged particles called ions to generate electrical signals in the same way that information is transferred between neurons in the brain.

Though computers will be able to do incredible things, the processing power comes at a high energy cost.

The researchers created a system that mimics the process of generating action potentials. The spikes in electrical activity generated by neurons that are the basis of brain activity.

 To mimic voltage-gated ion channels, the researchers modelled a thin layer of water between sheets of graphene, which are extremely thin sheets of carbon. The water layers in the simulations were one, two, or three molecules in depth, which the researchers characterized as a quasi-two-dimension slit.

Testing out the model in a computer simulation, the researchers found that when they applied an electric field to the channel, the ions in the water formed worm-like structures.  As the team applied a greater electric field in the simulation, these structures would break up slowly enough to leave behind a “memory,” or a hint of the elongated configuration. The new model is a version of an electronic component called a memristor, or a memory resistor, which has the unique property of retaining information from its history. But existing memristors don’t use liquid, as the brain does.

The human brain is remarkably efficient, using roughly the energy contained in two bananas to do an entire day’s work. While the reasons for this efficiency aren’t entirely clear, scientists have reasoned that if they could make a computer more like the human brain, it would require way less energy.

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