Honey might become a crucial feature to build brain-like computer chips

You read that right.
Mert Erdemir
Honeycomb and a computer chip1, 2

As the global chip shortage has been on the agenda for years, worries about it got even worse. On top of it, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has had a negative influence on the situation as well. Aren't there any good developments in the chip industry? Well, it seems there is.

Engineers from Washington State University (WSU) have demonstrated that honey could be used to produce eco-friendly and brain-like computer chips, according to a study published in the Journal of Physics D. 

Inspired by human synapses, researchers processed honey into a solid form and jammed it between two metal electrodes to produce a structured design dubbed 'memristor.' Honey memristors are able to mimic human neurons and switch on and off very quickly while maintaining information. 

"Honey does not spoil," said Feng Zhao, associate professor of WSU’s School of Engineering and Computer Science and corresponding author of the study. "It has a very low moisture concentration, so bacteria cannot survive in it. This means these computer chips will be very stable and reliable for a very long time."

Currently, the size of the honey memristor is equivalent to human hair. But the research team aims at moving from micro-scale down to nano-scale, making memristors 1/1000 smaller in size.

A solution for electronic waste 

It's good news that with the use of honey, neuromorphic systems have become more organic in addition to their speed and energy efficiency compared to today's computer systems. 

Unlike the non-renewable chips of today, these honey-based computer chips are very easy to dispose of thanks to their feature of dissolving in water. Their bio-degradability promise a solution for electronic waste that causes a threat to the environment with more than 22 million tons of waste piling up every year.

Apparently, honey memristors can be the long-needed solution for reducing electronic waste with their renewable and biodegradable structure. “Because of these special properties, honey is very useful for creating renewable and biodegradable neuromorphic systems," Zhao said.

Study Abstract:
Spiking neural network (SNN) in future neuromorphic architectures requires hardware devices to be not only capable of emulating fundamental functionalities of biological synapse such as spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP) and spike-rate dependent plasticity (SRDP), but also biodegradable to address current ecological challenges of electronic waste. Among different device technologies and materials, memristive synaptic devices based on natural organic materials have emerged as the favourable candidate to meet these demands. The metal–insulator-metal structure is analogous to biological synapse with low power consumption, fast switching speed and simulation of synaptic plasticity, while natural organic materials are water soluble, renewable and environmental friendly. In this study, the potential of a natural organic material—honey-based memristor for SNNs was demonstrated. The device exhibited forming-free bipolar resistive switching, a high switching speed of 100 ns set time and 500 ns reset time, STDP and SRDP learning behaviours, and dissolving in water. The intuitive conduction models for STDP and SRDP were proposed. These results testified that honey-based memristive synaptic devices are promising for SNN implementation in green electronics and biodegradable neuromorphic systems.

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