A new type of computer may be based on liquid crystals rather than silicon, according to research by two MIT researchers. Ziga Kos and Jörn Dunkel describe a potential computer design that makes use of minute variations in the orientation of the molecules that make up liquid crystals in their paper that was published in the journal Science Advances. They also discuss the advantages such a system would have over those currently in use.
Liquid crystal displays are used to create the majority of modern computer screens (LCDs). These displays are produced by crystals growing on a flat surface. The rod-shaped molecules that make up these crystals are arranged parallel to one another (those that line up the wrong way are removed). Of course, not all of the molecules in LCDs are perfectly aligned, but they are close enough to permit clear imaging.
In this new initiative, Kos and Dunkel point out, it should be able to take advantage of these minor misalignments to create a new way of holding and manipulating computer data. They point out that a machine like this could encode a specific value for any misalignment to store a tiny bit of information. Therefore, a computer using this method would not be limited to using binary bits in the traditional sense. Instead, it can have a wide range of alternatives, potentially making it much faster than the machines currently in use (depending on how quickly directions can be changed).
They note that an electric field can be used to control the orientation of molecules and, as a result, to perform calculations similar to those done with conventional logic gates. According to the researchers' method, the calculations would show up as waves traveling through the crystal.
The researchers initially developed theories to explain how such computations would take place to test whether their strategy would be successful. After creating simulations based on their hypothesis (they showed a four-nbit configuration realizing universal classical NOR and NAND gates), they found that their theory seemed sound. If a group of engineers is interested, they claim their method is up for testing.