Transistor provides link between computers and humans
Squid-shell material converts electron signals into "brain signals"
Computers could be able to communicate with the human body - and even control organs - following the development of a proton-based organic transistor, scientists claim.
According to materials scientists at the University of Washington, the transistor represents a key component for devices that can communicate directly with living things.
Transistors using the new materials, the researchers said, would act as a gateway for messages between living things, which use ions or protons to send signals, and computers and electronics, which use electrons.
“There's always this issue, a challenge, at the interface – how does an electronic signal translate into an ionic signal, or vice versa?" said Marco Rolandi, a University of Washington assistant professor of materials science and engineering.
A proton current can be switched on and off, in a way that's completely analogous to an electronic current in any other field effect transistor
"We have found a biomaterial that is very good at conducting protons, and allows the potential to interface with living systems."
The unlikely material in the transistor is a form of a compound called chitosan, part of a structure that survives from when squids had shells and can be recycled from crab shells.
Computing devices that connect with the human body's processes are being explored for biological sensing and controlling prosthetics but they rely on triggering "on" and "off" switches in the body.
The protons that activate these binary options, among other things, flex muscles and transmit brain signals.
"In our device, large bioinspired molecules can move protons, and a proton current can be switched on and off, in a way that's completely analogous to an electronic current in any other field effect transistor," Rolandi said.
The prototype device is the first step towards a field-effect transistor that could be used in laboratories for cell research within a decade and later used in human beings.