Light as a new form of computing

McMaster researchers have developed a simple and highly novel form of computing by shining patterned bands of light and shadow through different facets of a polymer cube and reading the combined results that emerge. The material in the cube reads and reacts intuitively to the light in much the same way a plant would turn to the sun, or a cuttlefish would change the color of its skin.


The researchers are graduate students in chemistry supervised by Kalaichelvi Saravanamuttu, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology whose lab focuses on ideas inspired by natural biological systems. The researchers were able to use their new process to perform simple addition and subtraction questions. “These are autonomous materials that respond to stimuli and do intelligent operations,” says Saravanamuttu. “We’re very excited to be able to do addition and subtraction this way, and we are thinking of ways to do other computational functions.”

The form of computing is highly localized, needs no power source and operates completely within the visible spectrum. The technology is part of a branch of chemistry called nonlinear dynamics, and uses materials designed and manufactured to produce specific reactions to light.

Source (McMaster University. “Nature inspires a novel new form of computing, using light: Researchers perform simple calculations by shining light patterns through a translucent cube.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 May 2019.)

Original paper: Hudson, A.D., Ponte, M.R., Mahmood, F., Ventura, T.P. and Saravanamuttu, K., 2019. A soft photopolymer cuboid that computes with binary strings of white light. Nature communications10(1), pp.1-9.