Computing with Liquid Marbles

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Faculty of Environment and Technology


We propose to make computing devices from liquid marbles. A liquid marble (LM) is a liquid droplet coated with hydrophilic powder which enables the LM to be manipulated like a soft solid. The coating prevents the liquid to wet the carrier surface thus LMs transport liquid through large distances without loss of mass and with minimum energy. Coating-liquid pair determines a LM's properties and manipulation schemes. LM can be manipulated mechanically and electromagnetically. Computing schemes proposed are inspired by conservative logic and collision-based computation. A collision-based computation employs mobile compact finite patterns. Information values (e.g. truth values of logical variables) are given by either absence or presence of the localisations or other parameters of the localisations. The localisations travel in space and do computation when they collide with each other. Almost any part of the medium space can be used as a wire. The localisations undergo transformations, they change velocities, form bound states, annihilate or fuse when they interact with other localisations. Information values of localisations are transformed as a result of collision and thus a computation is implemented. We will produce LMs computing devices: cascades of collision-based logical gates, an adder and an arithmetic-logical unit, where data signals are represented by the LMs, and results of computation by either LMs or bi-stable flip-flop elements. The computing devices made with LMs are completely mechanical and easily extendable to chemical or electromechanical in construction and operation, permit the achievement of elementary level instructions in computers with the following benefits: the functioning is self-evident, no specialised knowledge of electronics is required to operate the LMs computer, the prototypes proposed will be simple and durable constructions and inexpensive to manufacture, the principles of operation are clearly observable.

Planned Impact

Liquid marbles (LMs) based devices devices include digital micro-fluidics, miniature pumps, gas sensors, micro mixers, microreactors, cell culturing platforms, micro accelerometers, electric generators. Proposed prototypes of LMs logical and arithmetical devices can be immediately deployed in all these domains.

Outcomes of the project will impact directly int the following fields of science:

Computer Science: Logical schemes and computational circuits developed in LMs pathways are hybrid, digital-analog systems. Benefits are envisaged also in the fields of self-assembly, self-regenerative systems, survivability and fault-tolerance of novel computing schemes. Our prototypes of LMs computing devices will advance theory and applications of collision-based computing and conservative logic, and will lead to developments of novel prototypes of reversible disposable computing devices. Laboratory prototypes of LMs computing networks enable those working in nature-inspired computing to access original computing algorithms and experimental procedures; a platform for future collision-based computers which is robust and can be built on in broad variety of ways: change of interface (optical, electrical, chemical, mechanical); a wide range of substrates; hybrid units combining several types of biological substrates and conventional hardware can be made with units shared among labs.

Biology: LMs are analogous, up to certain degree, to intracellular lipid vesicles. Our results on programmable routing, decision making and computation with travelling LMs will enable experts in biology and biophysics to re-evaluate their concepts of communication and information processing in living cells.

Future electronic designs: A most simple version of LM is a water and lycopodium. Both substances are disposable and degradable. Pathways of LMs routing in the computer circuits can be made of cellulose-based materials. In principle, no conventional electronic components are required to build a LMs computer. Thus, our research leads to a unique class of disposable green electronic devices.

Microfluidic devices: LMs computing circuits is a digital fluidics, embedded collision-based logical circuitries will be capable to do in situ decision making during analysis of samples. This will increase the level of detail and sensitivity that can be gathered about that samples and thus will allow researchers to obtain new biological answers and make discoveries that simply could not be done before.

Medical applications: LMs are already used for rapid blood typing, cosmetics and drug delivery in respiratory system of humans, so potential medical applications of our research is not a distant future. Structurally programmable implementation of a controlled release of the contents of LMs during collision could lead to efficient designs of intracellular drug delivery and release, drug delivery routes and vehicles, and delivery approaches, thus bringing benefits to pharmaceutical and biomaterial scientists in academia and industry.


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