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What Is a Chemical Computer?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 16, 2024
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A chemical computer, as of 2011, is an experimental computer that primarily uses chemicals instead of hardware to store and move data. While some hardware — such as a monitor — will still be required, many internal hardware pieces will no longer be needed for the computer to function. Such a computer works much like a brain, because data can move in all directions, instead of only in rigid paths. This process works by taking advantage of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction, and data move according to bromine levels. Unlike traditional hardware, which can be ruined by small particles, chemical solutions will be much easier to produce and will not suffer the same fragility.

Traditional computers are made of many pieces of hardware. For example, there are the central processing unit (CPU), the hard drive and random access memory (RAM). All these components are essential for moving data around the computer to achieve common functions. With a chemical computer, the need for most internal hardware will be eliminated, and the hardware will be replaced with a lipid-based solution that holds data. Some hardware pieces, such as a mouse and monitor, will still be required.

Unlike a regular computer, a chemical computer works like a neuron in the brain. When data are sent through a regular computer, they must follow rigid paths. While this approach is fast, it can create a bottleneck that slows down operation. The data in a wet computer are liquid and there are no rigid paths, so data can move in all directions, leading to faster operating without a bottleneck.

To create a chemical computer, the data rely on the BZ reaction, which is caused by non-equilibrium thermodynamics. This means the energy is constantly moving and changing according to the needs of the computer or the user. While there are several different BZ solutions, all of them function by using bromine as an acid that excites the solution. The levels of bromine in this computer will control where data go and other important computing functions.

Aside from faster processing, another benefit of a chemical computer is that the computer will be easier to make. Most hardware pieces must be built in sterilized environments, because a single particle can ruin the pieces. The solution in a chemical computer is very stable, so it will be able to ignore the particle and still process and move data. This can lead to lower prices, less manufacturing time and overhead costs, and easier production.

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