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Highlights in Chemical Science

News from across RSC Publishing.

Paint me a computer

09 November 2006

Chemists in Poland have constructed logic gates, the 'atoms' of computation, out of well-known pigments.

Konrad Szacilowski and colleagues at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow have made chemical switches out of titanium dioxide and Prussian blue, which are both commonly used paint pigments. The switches can replicate the basic logical operations in digital circuits. In addition, their behaviour can be altered by shining light on them, allowing direct input of signals from optical fibres.

A P de Silva of Queens University Belfast, UK, said that the research 'will strengthen the worldwide effort in computation with molecular and nanostructured systems'.


Prussian blue pigment

Prussian blue is a commonly used paint pigment


Szacilowski contrasts their composite material with other molecule-based logic gates: 'The information channels transmit easily tunable electrical and optical signals instead of, for example, concentration or pH.'

Francisco Raymo, an assistant professor at the University of Miami, Florida, US, said that it is 'an important addition to the emerging field of molecular logic gates', but warned that 'the switching speeds and stabilities of these systems, as well as the inherent challenge in interconnecting independent logic gates based on this protocol, might complicate the application of these materials at the present stage of their development.'

'At this point our devices cannot compete with classical, semiconductor-based processors, in terms of computational power, efficiency and user-friendliness,' admitted Szacilowski. But he suggests that the combination of chemistry with information processing may lead to greater insight into molecular processes at work in the brains and nervous systems of animals.

Colin Batchelor


K Szacilowski, W Macyk and G Stochel, J. Mater. Chem., 2006
DOI: 10.1039/b606402g