Researchers at the University of Washington have created a squid ink-powered proton transistor which could allow machines to communicate directly with organic matter.
It isn’t easy to make an organic cell talk to a piece of electrical equipment; first in a long list of problems is the fact that while the former uses ions and protons to send commands, the latter relies on electrons. In good news for augmentation fans everywhere, a team from the University of Washington says they might be about to solve this problem with their squid-based proton transistor.
In simplified terms, our bodies use protons to switch different cells “on” and “off,” and those commands can’t be given by electrons – unless there’s a transistor inbetween to “translate” for them. The transistor uses a modified form of the compound chitosan, which is found in abundance in crab shells and the insides of squids, to allow electron-to-proton commands.
Marco Rolandi, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, explained that, “There’s always this issue, a challenge, at the interface – how does an electronic signal translate into an ionic signal, or vice versa?”
“We found a biomaterial that is very good at conducting protons, and allows the potential to interface with living systems,” he continued. “In our device, large bioinspired molecules can move protons, and a proton current can be switched on and off, in a way that’s completely analogous to an electronic current in any other field effect transistor.”
At the moment the transistor is silicon-based, meaning it isn’t compatible with organic matter. Rolandi and his team are working on making the transistor a little more human-friendly, and the possible practical applications of this discovery won’t really become apparent until then. A biocompatible transistor could monitor, influence or even directly control certain body functions; that health bar you’re so used to seeing on the screen could become reality. Bad news for squids, it seems, is good news for us.