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Biotech Medicine Science Technology

New Transistor Could Let Chips Interface With Living Systems 72

An anonymous reader writes with a UW news item about a really neat new transistor design. From the release: "Human [sic, probably meant Electronic] devices, from light bulbs to iPods, send information using electrons. Human bodies and all other living things, on the other hand, send signals and perform work using ions or protons. Materials scientists at the University of Washington have built a novel transistor that uses protons, creating a key piece for devices that can communicate directly with living things. Among the many potential areas for application is that of prosthetic limbs." The paper's abstract is available, but the full paper is unfortunately paywalled. The Rolandi research group has a few other neat projects in related areas.
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New Transistor Could Let Chips Interface With Living Systems

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  • I'm really impressed that this new transistor uses protons.
    I thought we were going to be stuck with protonless transistors forever.
    • Hah, protons are so 3 minutes ago. I'm waiting for one that uses neutrons.
    • My sarcasmometer is busted but: Yes smart guy, transistors currently contain protons. The difference is that, in this transistor, the protons are the "moving part", rather than electrons (and electron holes).
      • by EdIII ( 1114411 )

        rather than electrons (and electron holes)

        Interesting. Is that similar to how there are Donuts and Donut "Holes"? However, an electron is in itself a spherical particle, which already makes it the Donut Hole.

        Confused here. Please explain.

  • Because I always thought protons were the positively charged particles in the nucleus of an atom.

    This article is clearly talking about something else... so either the article is using the wrong word or else proton has another meaning of which I was previously unaware.

    • by Relic of the Future ( 118669 ) <dalesNO@SPAMdigitalfreaks.org> on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @06:08PM (#37461292)
      No, you're right. Now, what do you get if you take a hydrogen atom, and ionize it?
      • by n5vb ( 587569 )
        Acid-base chemistry is based on proton and hydroxyl (OH) ion exchange. Protons are also known as hydrogen nuclei, and in a lot of wet chemistry where nuclei and electrons interact on a more or less constant basis, they're interchangeable for most practical conceptual purposes.

        I'm pretty sure, however, that the article was concentrating more on ionic transfer than on protons, specifically. A lot of ion flow through cell walls is heavier alkali metals like sodium and potassium. Communicating with *neuron
        • by Anonymous Coward
          Your definition of acid-base chemistry is most frequently referred to as "Arrhenius theory". That theory was refined in 1923 by Bronsted-Lowry acid-base theory, which is based on proton (H+) donors and acceptors. However, both of these theories fail to describe & accommodate Lewis acids and bases [wikimedia.org], which are defined as "an electron pair acceptor" and "an electron pair donor", respectively. The Bronsted-Lowry and Lewis theories are related, but distinct.
      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        Okay... but how do you "conduct" protons? I mean, it was my understanding that you can't just move them around like electrons because they are several orders of magnitude heavier. If you were to use a negative charge to try to attract protons, the positive charge of the protons would pull the electrons to it before the proton had moved even one 2000th of the same distance towards the electrons. If you use a positive charge to repel photons, you will simply attract electrons towards your other positive ch
        • Like everything else in biology, usually complex proteins. Let Me Wiki That For You [wikipedia.org]. (Although this technology seems quite different, I believe the basic idea is still the same.)
          • by mark-t ( 151149 )
            Wiki was unhelpful. Please explain to me how they actually know that the protons are genuinely moving and it's not simply negative charges that are moving in the opposite direction. It's not like they can actually see the protons moving around.
            • You can show actual proton transport by, say, a proton pump protein in a membrane. Just put some 3H+ on one side and watch for it being pumped to the other. The mechanism is not just attraction between positive and negative charges, the mechanism is active - so you spend ATP to pump protons against a gradient of the electrochemical potential, usually by funneling them between a series of binding sites.
        • Look at the picture! The device has source, drain, and a channel bridge which is presumably sensitive to the concentration of H+ ions in the surrounding solution.

          How it probably works is that the resistance of the device varies with the concentration.

          So you can build an amplifier stage (e.g. drain follower) which varies a voltage across a load in response to the signal encoded in the proton concentration.

          Disclaimer: all of this is a wild guess. As always, the devil is in the details.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Fned ( 43219 )

      First author Chao Zhong, a UW postdoctoral researcher, and second author Yingxin Deng, a UW graduate student, discovered that this form of chitosan works remarkably well at moving protons. The chitosan absorbs water and forms many hydrogen bonds; protons are then able to hop from one hydrogen bond to the next.

      No, they mean protons.

    • Well, fsck me.. until I read your post, I thought the summary read "photons"...!
  • I could never figure out why my antimatter chips always, er, failed after being implanted in living hosts.

  • I'll hold out for the social enhancement chip. Could use some pheromones right about now...
    • Where do I sign up for my weekly dose of Neuropozyne(TM), I NEED some serious hacking upgrades!
    • My vision will be augmented.
      • by ae1294 ( 1547521 )

        My vision will be augmented.

        So you can see that you're really a slim attractive man-furry living in WoW for a monthly fee that your mom pays because she thinks it's for Psychotherapy.

  • Don't they understand the benefit of the Shaper's ancient gene lines that have been finely tuned over the centuries? Why must these wireheaded mechanists defile themselves with these electro-mechanical devices? /Schismatrix

    • Why must these wireheaded mechanists defile themselves with these electro-mechanical devices?

      That's what I said! But my girlfriend insists they offer a better experience....

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @06:25PM (#37461484) Journal

    How does it help to interface with living organisms? My initial impression is that it would be much easier to have the prosthetic implemented using conventional electronics, and have an interface adapter on the boundary with living tissue - sounds like that would be much easier.

    And isn't the main problem with prosthetic limbs making them nimble and accurate enough, both mechanically and in terms of interpreting nerve signals?

    • by Alyred ( 667815 )
      Yeah, I guess it boils down to if there is a feasible way to make a converter -- electrons on one end, protons on the other. Otherwise, this could boil down into a new field altogether.. protonics?
    • Wrt your sig.. you know there are the same options in earlier versions of Windows, right? That does look slightly more convenient, but right after I tick those boxes I'd be disabling the fucking massive toolbar.

      • Yes, of course I do know. It's pretty funny having to observe people trying to locate them in the murky depths of Explorer's settings dialog in existing versions, though.

        You can't disable the ribbon in Win8 explorer, but you can minimize it (which still keeps it useful as it'll pop out when you click on a tab). And yes, it's certainly much more convenient when minimized, leaving more room for file listing.

    • That's the point: this is a step towards fixing the problem of interpreting nerve signals.
    • by Fned ( 43219 )

      My initial impression is that it would be much easier to have the prosthetic implemented using conventional electronics, and have an interface adapter on the boundary with living tissue - sounds like that would be much easier.

      “So there’s always this issue, a challenge, at the interface – how does an electronic signal translate into an ionic signal, or vice versa?” said lead author Marco Rolandi, a UW assistant professor of materials science and engineering. “We found a biomaterial that is very good at conducting protons, and allows the potential to interface with living systems.”

      Sounds like "what would be easier" is, in fact, the problem they just solved...

    • by flonker ( 526111 )

      Last I heard, the problem is that when electrodes are implanted in neural tissue, the neural tissue surrounding the electrode dies in a few years.

  • So how long do you think it will be until we have augmentations? I call first dibs on the Typhoon System!
  • chitosan matrix, but what is the gate?
  • May sound stupid, but where does the extra charge go? If the device receives an electron on one side and sends a positively charge thing on the other side (a proton or K+), that leaves 2 electrons in the device, where do those go?
    • The extra charge is placed into an escrow account and is then divided up to help pay for much needed social services.

  • If one can get past the hurdle of host rejection, this could be an amazing boon for humanity. Imagine a neurological interface with computers, or a network? New generations of smart fighter jets, weapons, an assortment of cybernetic enhancements, it's literally science fiction taking a hold of real life. Couple neurological interface with a super computer array and a vast library, and see what kind of innovations we can come up. Imagine new sensor inputs for our minds to study, imagine seeing radio waves fo

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @11:35PM (#37464092)

    ... installing an OnStar in your brain?

    You'll get cheaper insurance if you do. Just don't think about the remote disable feature.

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27