Processor from the Petri Dish

Highly Efficient Magnetic Computers

Processor from the Petri Dish


A suitable culture medium, some heat and the computer grows all by itself: a processor made of special bacteria could process considerably more data for the same size than its silicon counterpart. Scientists from the Materials Chain at the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) report in the journal Nature Communications about their discovery of magnetic oscillations inside bacteria.

The unicellular organism has special innards: small magnetic spheres with a diameter of only 30 nanometers, lined up like a string of pearls. In nature, they are used for orientation along the earth's magnetic field.

Scientists led by Benjamin Zingsem from the UDE working group "Structure and Magnetism of Nanoscale Systems" and colleagues from the University of Oldenburg have now exposed these bacteria to magnetic fields of different strengths from different directions and generated magnetic oscillations ("magnons") in the particles. They noticed that bacteria lacking a certain protein form curved and branched chains that act like logical circuits: "If one excites several magnetic oscillations that carry different information, a new oscillation results in the magnons, the information of which is a logical linkage of the original oscillations," explains Zingsem. The Materials Chain researchers have now observed this magnonics for the first time in a biological system and on a nano-level. Previously, it had only been researched in larger microsystems.

As powerful as a human brain

The bacteria-based processor has several advantages: Since it does not work with electric current, it does not need to be cooled. This saves a lot of energy and enables much more complex processors. "This would make it possible to accommodate about a million times more circuits in one processor than before," says the physicist. A single computer could thus become as powerful as a human brain. In addition, the bacteria grow independently and without the use of environmentally harmful compounds, as in semiconductor production. Their exponential growth would also make it possible to react quickly to increased market demand. Production would therefore be much cheaper and more sustainable than with traditional semiconductor technology.

According to Zingsem, the next step is to control such systems using conventional methods: "We are working on feeding such systems with data and reliably reading out the results. Integration into conventional electronics is therefore only a matter of time."


Original publication:
Zingsem, B. et al. Biologically encoded magnonics. Nat. commun. 10, 4345 (2019).
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-12219-0


Further information:
Benjamin Zingsem, Faculty of Physics and Research Centre Jülich, Tel. 0203 37-9 4411, benjamin.zingsem@uni-due.de

Editor: Birte Vierjahn, Tel. 0203 37-9 8176, birte.vierjahn@uni-due.de