RMIT team creates light-sensitive electronic chip

Researchers from RMIT have developed an electronic chip that uses light to create and modify memories.

The team took guidance from the way that the human brain works to develop an efficient method of store, delete and process information.

The team looked to a technique called optogenetics, which uses light to control cells in living tissue, often focussing on nerve cells, otherwise known as neurons.

Optogenetics enables incredibly precise alterations to the body’s electrical system, allowing for individual neurons to be turned on or off.

In the human brain, these neurons and the electrical pulses that travel through them are the foundation for memories. In the chip developed by scientists from RMIT, an ultrathin material changes electrical resistance when it is exposed to different wavelengths of light.

To active the device, an electric current is created when the light-sensitive material is exposed to light. Alternating between different colours will cause the current to reverse direction from positive to negative.

So far, the team have used the chip to process small amounts of information, including logic operations.

The material is made from black phosphorus, and the defect due to missing atoms are utilised to manipulate the material’s behaviour.

The outcome of this research, published in journals Small and Advanced Functional Materials is putting scientists one step closer to fast, efficient and secure light-based computing. The researchers also hope that this finding could lead to the creation of a bionic brain which learns from external stimuli.

While there are direct applications in allowing researchers to study a brain’s neural pathways to better understand neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, the device could be used to drive wearable electronics, bionic prosthetics and smart gadgets that utilise artificial intelligence.

Ultimately, there is the potential for this technology to be used to interface between living tissues and computational devices, for example retinal implants.