Email Print Share
October 20, 2022

Material That Thinks For Itself

Researchers have created novel, reconfigurable integrated circuit materials that are capable of sensing, thinking, and acting upon mechanical stress without needing additional circuits to process the signals.

Credit: National Science Foundation

Material That Thinks for Itself

When someone taps your shoulder or brushes your arm, the touch receptors in your skin send a message to your brain, which processes the information and directs you to look in the direction of the contact.

What if you could make a material that is capable of thinking and reacting in a similar manner? We'll explore as we look into the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

Theorized in the 1930's and made practical by computer chips created in the 1960's, integrated circuits are engineers' realization of information processing similar to the brain's role in the human body.

Integrated circuits run all types of modern electronics, including phones, cars, and robots.

NSF-supported researchers have created novel, integrated circuit materials made from conductive and non-conductive rubber materials.

When forces is applied to the engineered material, it digitizes the information to signals that its electrical network can advance and assess, allowing the material to react to how the forces are applied to them.

Using this soft materials system, nearly any material around us could act like its own integrated circuit: being able to sense, think and act upon mechanical stress without requiring additional circuits to process such signals.

The soft polymer material has potential applications in autonomous search-and-rescue systems, in infrastructure repairs and even in bio-hybrid materials that could one day be used to identify, isolate and neutralize airborne pathogens.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation.

Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.