Bee honey could be the unlikely key to unlocking the next era of computing

Neuromorphic computing that mimics the human brain (opens in a new tab) is one step closer to reality as researchers at Washington State University have built a crucial circuit for this new kind of computing using an unlikely pure substance.

Using honey from bees, the researchers built a proof-of-concept memory resistor or memristor. To accomplish this feat, they first turned honey into a solid form and then held it between two metal electrodes in the same way synapses in the brain were between pairs of neurons.

After its creation, Washington State University researchers tested the device’s ability to turn on and off quickly at speeds between 100 and 500 nanoseconds. The tests were successful, and the researchers hope their new memristor can help pave the way for biodegradable, sustainable and organic computer systems in the future.

In a press release (opens in a new tab) Announcing the discovery, Associate Professor of WSU’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, Feng Zhao provided further insight into the potential of honey in creating brain-like computer chips, saying:

“It’s a very small device with a simple structure, but it has very similar functionality to a human neuron. This means that if we can integrate millions or billions of these honey memristors together, then they can be transformed into a neuromorphic system that works much like a human brain.

Neuromorphic Computing

Conventional computer systems like those found in business computers (opens in a new tab) and mobile workstations (opens in a new tab) are based on the von Neumann architecture which involves an input such as a keyboard and mouse as well as an output such as a monitor with a processor and RAM.

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Link: The beginning of this link seems broken. The mechanisms from input to memory processing to output require far more power than the human brain. For example the Fugaku from Fujitsu (opens in a new tab) supercomputer uses 28 million watts to operate while the human brain only uses about 10 to 20 watts. That’s why companies like Intel and IBM are working on neuromorphic chips (opens in a new tab) that mimic the functioning of the human brain.

The human brain has over 100 billion neurons with over 1,000 tons of synapses or connections between them. Since each neuron can both process and store data, the brain is much more efficient than a traditional computer.

At the same time, conventional computer chips (opens in a new tab) are constructed from non-renewable and toxic materials, while neuromorphic chips, like the one created by researchers at Washington State University, can be made using biodegradable materials instead.

Going forward, Zhao’s team aims to reduce the size of its honey memristors from a microscale that is roughly the size of a human hair to a nanoscale that is about 1/1000. of a human hair. By doing so, researchers will be able to bundle millions, if not billions, of honey memristors together to create a complete neuromorphic computing system.

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