Finnish Researchers Develop Electricity-Free Computer Powered By Water Droplets

A team of Finnish researchers from Aalto University has developed a new concept for computing that doesn’t require standard electric power. Instead, the team creates collisions of water droplets on a highly water-repellent (superhydrophobic) surface. The research, which was published in the journal Advanced Materials, could form the basis for tomorrow’s electricity-free computing devices.

After a series of experiments, the team determined that the ideal conditions for rebounding water droplets on superhydrophobic surfaces required a copper surface coated with silver and chemically modified with a fluorinated compound. This allowed the surface to be so h2o repellent that water droplets rolled off when the surface was tilted slightly. Using superhydrophobic tracks, the droplets were able to be guided along designed paths.

Using this method, the researchers demonstrated that water droplets could be used to demonstrate “superhydrophobic droplet logic”. In the university’s press release, the team used the example of a memory device that was built where water droplets act as bits of digital information. They also demonstrated devices for elementary Boolean logic operations.

The team also discovered that once the water droplets were loaded with reactive chemical cargo, the onset of a chemical reaction could be controlled by droplet collisions. This combination of the collision-controlled chemical reactions with droplet logic operations potentially enabled programmable chemical reactions where single droplets were able to serve simultaneously as miniature reactors and bits for computing.

“It is fascinating to observe a new physical phenomenon for such everyday objects – water droplets,” says Robin Ras, an Academy Research Fellow in the Molecular Materials research group. “I was surprised that such rebounding collisions between two droplets were never reported before, as it indeed is an easily accessible phenomenon.”

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