HomeTechnologyGadgetsStretchy synaptic transistors can enhance, weaken device memories

Stretchy synaptic transistors can enhance, weaken device memories

Robotics and wearable devices may soon get a little smarter. Penn State engineers have developed a stretchable, wearable synaptic transistor that acts like neurons in the brain to send signals to some cells and inhibit others to improve or weaken the devices’ memory.

Artificial synaptic transistors that exhibit similar excitatory and inhibitory behaviors to the brain can provide diverse functionality and efficient computing in a variety of applications. Some of these applications, such as soft robotics and portable electronicsrequire synaptic devices that are mechanically soft and malleable.

The team designed the artificial synaptic transistor to be integrated into robots or wearables and use artificial intelligence to optimize functions. The synaptic transistor is reconfigurable, meaning it can be rotated and bent while remaining functional. Conventional transistors, on the other hand, are rigid and can break after bending.

“By mirroring the human brain, robots and wearable devices that use the synaptic transistor can use its artificial neurons to ‘learn’ and modify their behavior,” said Cunjiang Yu, Dorothy Quiggle Career Development Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering and who led the team. “For example, if we burn our hand on a stove, it hurts, and we know not to touch it next time. The same results will be possible for devices that use the synaptic transistor, such as the artificial intelligence is able to ‘learn’ and adapt to its environment.”

The artificial neurons in the device are designed to perform like neurons in the ventral tegmental area. The ventral tegmental area is the small segment in the human brain that is located in the upper part of the brain brain Rod. Neurons process and transmit information by releasing neurotransmitters at their synapses, usually at the ends of the neural cell. Excitatory neurotransmitters trigger the activity of other neurons and are associated with enhancing memories, while inhibitory neurotransmitters decrease the activity of other neurons and are associated with weakening memories.

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“Unlike any other part of the brain, neurons in the ventral tegmental area are capable of releasing both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters simultaneously,” Yu said. “By designing the synaptic transistor to operate with both synaptic behaviors simultaneously, fewer transistors are required compared to conventional integrated electronics technology, simplifying system architecture and enabling the device to conserve power.”

The researchers used stretchable bilayer semiconductor materials to fabricate the device, allowing it to stretch and rotate during use. According to the researchers, the transistor is mechanically deformable and functionally reconfigurable, but still retains its functions when stretched extensively. It can be attached to a robot or wearable device to act as an outer skin.

Magazine reference:

  1. Hyunseok Shim, Faheem Ershad, Shubham Patel, Yongcao Zhang, Binghao Wang, Zhihua Chen, Tobin J. Marks, Antonio Facchetti, and Cunjiang Yu. An elastic and reconfigurable synaptic transistor based on a stretchable bilayer semiconductor. Natural Electronics, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41928-022-00836-5


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