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MEMS based approach to shake up computing?

Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) believe they may have developed a MEMS based alternative to silicon based computing. According to the team, vibrating mechanical switches could be cascaded to perform complex computational operations and say the approach could take computing further than today’s technologies.

Researcher Saad Ilyas said: “Electromechanical systems offer a major advantage over existing technology in that they are leakage free; unlike electrical transistors, they only consume power when switched. They also require fewer gates per computing function, resulting in lower complexity, and they can be fabricated with higher integration densities – it is even predicted that these systems could be scaled down to the molecular level.”

Whle microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have been investigated in the past for logic operations, the team says it has been a challenge to devise a mode of operation that allows such logic gates to be cascaded to form arbitrary computational functions.

Nizar Jaber and lead researcher Mohammad Younis have developed a technique by which logic operations can be performed using frequency mixing, which holds great potential for cascading.

“We use an electrical signal as an input,” said Jaber, “which causes a clamped polymer microbeam to vibrate at a certain resonance frequency. This in turn generates motional current as an electrical signal with the same frequency, which could then be cascaded into the input of another MEMS logic gate.”

The team has so far demonstrated various logic operations at a single operating frequency, which it says is an important step towards cascading. Their logic gates are also compatible with existing fabrication techniques.

Graham Pitcher

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