An organic transistor that mimics a brain synapse

An organic transistor that mimics a brain synapse

Summary: For the first time, nanotechnology researchers in France have developed a hybrid nanoparticle-organic transistor that can mimic the main functionalities of a synapse.

TOPICS: Processors, Hardware

For the first time, nanotechnology researchers in France have developed a hybrid nano-particle-organic transistor that can mimic the main functionalities of a synapse.


The NOMFET (Nanoparticle Organic Memory Field-Effect Transistor), as it's known, is an organic device made of a molecule called pentacene (an organic semiconductor) and gold nano-particles. It exhibits the main behavior of a biological spiking synapse and can lead to a new generation of neuro-inspired computers, capable of responding in a manner similar to the nervous system.

As Mil-Tech reports, Dominique Vuillaume, a research director at CNRS (the French National Science Agency) involved with the project said; “Basically, we have demonstrated that electric charges flowing through a mixture of an organic semiconductor and metallic nano-particles can behave the same way as neurotransmitters through a synaptic connection in the brain.”

To grasp how a NOMFET works requires a quick review of how neuron networks operate. In the nervous system, a synapse is the junction between two neurons, enabling the transmission of electric messages from one neuron to another and the adaptation of the message as a function of the nature of the incoming signal (plasticity). For instance, if the synapse receives very closely packed pulses of incoming signals, it will transmit a more intense action potential. Conversely, if the pulses are spaced farther apart, the action potential will be weaker. It is this plasticity that the researchers have succeeding in mimicking with the NOMFET. A transistor can be used as a simple switch -- it can then transmit, or not, a signal -- or instead offer numerous functionalities (amplification, modulation, encoding, etc.).

Science Daily explains that the innovation of the NOMFET resides in the original combination of an organic transistor and gold nanoparticles. "These encapsulated nanoparticles, fixed in the channel of the transistor and coated with pentacene, have a memory effect that allows them to mimic the way a synapse works during the transmission of action potentials between two neurons."

"The output of the NOMFET is thus able to reproduce the deceasing or amplifying behavior typical of a synapse depending on the frequency of spikes,"  Vuillaume recently told Physics World.

The transistor's performance is comparable to the seven CMOS transistors (at least) that have been needed until now to build an electronic synapse and mimic this plasticity. The devices produced have been optimized to nanometric sizes in order to be able to integrate them on a large scale.

Neuro-inspired computers produced using this technology eclipse silicon computers to perform more complex functions comparable to those of the human brain, such as visual recognition.

The study is published in the 22 January 2010 issue of the journal Advanced Functional Materials, and can be accessed on Scribd.

Topics: Processors, Hardware

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  • The Devil's work!

    The world won't last another 6,000 years!

    Don't get your neurons in a wad!
    It's great research, just doing a poor imitations of a Nancy Palin reaction.
  • Not totally convinced.

    Replicating a neuron is one thing - replicating a brain and intelligence are quite another. We don't understand the brain well enough to really produce something with a higher level intelligence.

    We've tried neural networks in software, and while they exhibit some basic learning behavior, I've yet to see one that actually has reasoning skills.
    • Not convinced of what?

      The article is about a building block, a replicated neuron... and two of them together replicating a synapse. No neural net, yet.
  • RE: An organic transistor that mimics a brain synapse

    This is version 1.0 of the basic building block that can be used to build sentient AI. Who decides what stimuli will provide the rapid tranmission of signals?
    • version 1.0 ?

      I feel it may be version 0.1.A.a.

      But it is a nice start.
  • RE: An organic transistor that mimics a brain synapse

    This is no big deal. Making a biological transistor without the bias of biological survival is the same as an Intel processor.
  • RE: An organic transistor that mimics a brain synapse

    What if we look at the smaller picture and instead of seeing this as the leap to artificial intelegence, see this as a way to repair malfunctioning synapse in patients with mental illness.
    • I like that suggestion

      To use nanotechnology at the subcellular level to help cure neural afflictions and wounds.

      It can have applications way broader that mental illness, like mitigating the after effects of a cervical emoragy or a severed spinal chord.
      • Extreme extrapolation

        And, as a observer noted:

        "One can envision a time when a cortical transplant from a dying person might be attached to a prosthetic brain stem of this type which in turn would fit into a cyborg, extending an individual's existence indefinitely."
  • RE: An organic transistor that mimics a brain synapse

    This will spark a new a new age in artificial intelligence and robotic cloning leading to new age warfare, space exploration, medical science. The imagination can only ponder what this device will produce in 50 - 100 years from now. The Age of Technology has taken a new turn which will open the next chapter in human evolution. Control robots to fight wars, fly space vehicles, repair broken or sick bodies? Am I going mad muuhaaahahaa...
  • Zut alors, a *French* organic transistor?

    Since it's a French organic transistor, by definition it'll automatically sniff its neighbors' backsides and be able to lick its own...ummm, well, you know.
    • racist

      and offensive
  • RE: An organic transistor that mimics a brain synapse

    First the organic transistor, next the organic integrated
  • Rebooting is all in your head

    Like they say, the next step in evolution will be man made! Just think, computers in our brains, of course running windows. It?s enough to make one stop and think (or reboot!).
    • enough to make one stop and think (or reboot!)

      Or cause a RSOD. Someone did say running Windows.
  • RE: An organic transistor that mimics a brain synapse

    Which means the Government can interface with you and probably track you. What will the I.P. Address be, your social security number? How will the interface work and do you have to take medication to prevent your body from Rejecting this foreign device? Hey, we may now be able to place orders via thought for online/in store purchases...... Many questions to answer as well as many more to ask!
  • organic transistor

    Most of you are missing the point. It's real application is in the medical field. Repairing motor neuron disorders, spinal cord injuries etc.
    • spinal cord injuries

      I can only hope so, but how long after the fact can it be done. I've been waiting for over 13 years but I've been thinking of the other route.
      Genetics plus nanobots.
  • This is NOT a replicated neuron

    You state that this device operates in the same manner as biological
    neurons. You then go into an explanation that shows both:
    that you do not understand how real neurons work, and
    that these devices do NOT operate like real neurons.

    Neurons work by transducing a low voltage action potential at the
    axonal head into a brief, modulated chemical burst. This chemical
    secretion crosses the synapse and triggers chemical ligand modulated
    ion channels that then open and allow charged particles to enter the
    dentritic head. This charges the head, and if that charge is large
    enough, causes voltage activated channels to open, further increasing
    charge differential, and causing another action potential.

    In NO way does this device operate in this fashion. As such, these
    comments above claiming this can be used for medical applications,
    or those saying this can open the doors for a new brand of AI are
    GROSSLY off the mark. While this is an interesting device, it does NOT
    operate like neurons, and most certainly could NEVER be used to
    repair damaged brain tissue.

    FTR, I have a degree in neuroscience and computation neuro.
    • Where does I state that it does?

      Thanks for the comment. However, "To grasp how a NOMFET works requires a quick review of how neuron networks operate." -- does not equal--"..this device operates in the same manner as biological neurons."

      NOMFET is an artificial synapse. Neurons use synapses to pass chemical signals to each other, so it's worth pointing out the function of neurons in a simple fashion as this site is for IT pros, and not necessarily neuroscientists like you.

      Chris Jablonski