It would be cool if scientists can invent an electrical material which is made of an XY square grid of atoms... straight like salt atoms except made of a weird polymer. the stuff functions as XY graphs...

So to start a computer instruction, you can flash the material black and send the base information, i.e. of an equation, to the first line of the material, and then the atoms change phase as they react with each other, perhaps like in the Game-Of-life, where phase changes flip flop forwards and backwards of each other, from a complex state.

It's an wacky idea and I don't know how much complete nonsense it is, or if it has been researched by some theorists once?

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    $\begingroup$ You talk about a grid of atoms. A three dimensional grid of atoms is called a crystal. For example diamond is a grid of carbon atoms. A polymer however is not an atom - it is a molecule. For example DNA is a polymer. Of course DNA is one component of a fantastically complicated computing mechanism that takes place in a living cell. It won't do algebra or plot graphs. It does however make humans who can do algebra and plot graphs. $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2019 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ What distinguishes this from, say, single-atom transistors, which are actively being researched today? There's a lot of prior art, depending on what aspects of this material is of interest to you. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ There are two separate questions here (1) In theory can a system that works like the Game-of-Life solve equations and plot graphs? The answer has been proved to be yes but it is incredibly inefficient and would involve simulating a universal computer inside the Game-of-Life - no mean feat (and the graph would not appear at the 'pixel' level) (2) Can the Game-of-Life be made to work at an atomic/molecular level in hardware? Possibly but it would require a lot of development and would probably be of little more than curiosity value. (IMO although naysayers are notoriously often proved wrong!). $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2019 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ ... Possibly but it would require a lot of development and would probably be of little more than curiosity value. (IMO although naysayers are notoriously often proved wrong!). I think what you probably need is a hardware neural-network where each node has its own computing power. $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2019 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ You're describing a programmable logic array, a common type of which is a field programmable gate array. In other words, we already do this, we just don't do it at the atomic level (yet). $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 0:50

1 Answer 1


Something like this has already been proposed. It has been proposed that by organizing molecular machines like rotaxanes into a crystal structure, such as that provided by a metal organic framework, that we could get them to interact with each other. If we tailor this interaction just right we can obtain cellular automaton behavior.

Rotaxanes are molecules in which there is a free moving ring on a rod. Now in the cartoonish diagram below supposes in 'A' that by putting rotaxanes next to each other that we might be able to get them to interact like dominos. One rotaxane moving down could cause the rotaxanes next to it to move down like dominos. If we can find some way to make our rotaxanes reset themselves after a certain amount of time we can make a very basic excitable medium. We know that we can make glider guns similar to those in Conway's game of life using current liquid state excitable media, so with this we might be able to carry out computation.

Now back to the figure, 'D' illustrates a little cartoon of how we might be able to organize molecular machines together in 3d space to do this using a Metal Organic Framework(MOF). The gray structure is the metal organic framework and the red dots are some complicated switchable molecular machine. MOFs are molecular lattice type structures consisting of organic linkers held together by metal ions. The nice thing about MOFs is that they have a bunch of open space inside in which we can put something interesting. In addition, MOF chemistry is fairly versatile and we can often put quite complicated things inside our linking struts.

rotaxane excitable media


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