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Carbon Nanotube Synapse Circuit Like Human Neuron

A carbon nanotube synapse circuit created by researchers at the University of Southern California behaves like a human neuron in tests. Could scientists build a synthetic brain?


(Nanotubes used in synthetic synapse w/ apparatus used to create them)

Carbon nanotubes are molecular carbon structures that are extremely small, with a diameter a million times smaller than a pencil point. These nanotubes can be used in electronic circuits, acting as metallic conductors or semiconductors.

"This is a necessary first step in the process," said Professor Alice Parker, who began the looking at the possibility of developing a synthetic brain in 2006. "We wanted to answer the question: Can you build a circuit that would act like a neuron? The next step is even more complex. How can we build structures out of these circuits that mimic the function of the brain, which has 100 billion neurons and 10,000 synapses per neuron?"

Parker emphasized that the actual development of a synthetic brain, or even a functional brain area is decades away, and she said the next hurdle for the research centers on reproducing brain plasticity in the circuits.

The human brain continually produces new neurons, makes new connections and adapts throughout life, and creating this process through analog circuits will be a monumental task, according to Parker.

She believes the ongoing research of understanding the process of human intelligence could have long-term implications for everything from developing prosthetic nanotechnology that would heal traumatic brain injuries to developing intelligent, safe cars that would protect drivers in bold new ways.

SF readers recall Isaac Asimov's positronic brain, from his short story Reason,

All that had been done in the mid 20th century on "calculating machines" had been upset by Robertson and his positronic brain paths. The miles of relays and photocells had given way to the spongy globe of platinum iridium about the size of the human brain. (Read more about the positronic brain)

Via Researchers create functioning synapse using carbon nanotubes.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/18/2011)

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