These Synthetic Neurons Use Ions to Hold Onto 'Memories', Just Like Our Brains Do

Scientists have developed key components of synthetic brain cells that can store cellular "memories," lasting for milliseconds. This achievement could lead to computers that function like the human brain.These parts were used to create an artificial brain cell model. They use charged particles calledions to produce an electric signal in the same manner that information is transferred between neurons in your brain.Although computers are capable of doing incredible things, they also have high energy costs. The human brain, however, is extremely efficient. It uses roughly the same amount of energy as two bananas to complete a day's worth of work.Although the exact reasons aren't clear, scientists have concluded that computers with more human-like brains would use less energy.Scientists can use the power of ions to recreate the brain's biological machinery. These charged particles are what the brain uses to generate electricity.Related: Inside the Brain: A Photo Journey Through TimeArtificial neurons(Paul Robin, ENS Laboratoire de Physique (CNRS/ENS-PSL/Sorbonne Universit/Universit de Paris)Above: A prototype of an artificial neuron by the researchers.The new study was published in Science on Aug. 6. It was done by researchers from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris, France. They created a computer model that could create the same kind of electrical signals brains use to transmit information. By sending ions through thin channels made of water, they were able to produce these electrical spikes.They have now created a physical model that incorporates these channels as part unpublished ongoing research.Lydric Bocquet (study co-author), a physicist from the cole Normale Suprieure, said that "it's the first time that humans have done this with ions".The researchers developed a system that replicates the action potentials that trigger electrical activity spikes generated by neurons. This is the basis of brain activity. A neuron begins to allow in more positive ions to create an action potential. These ions are attracted to the cells' negative ions.The cell's electrical potential (or voltage across its membrane) causes the doorways called voltage-gated Ion Channels to open. This raises the charge more quickly than the cell reaches a peak. However, the cell returns to normal within a few milliseconds. This signal is transmitted to other cells and allows information to travel through the brain.Researchers simulated a thin layer water between graphene sheets, which are very thin carbon sheets, to mimic voltage-gated Ion Channels. Researchers described the water layers as a quasi-two dimension slit.Bocquet stated that researchers wanted to use the two-dimensional environment as particles react more strongly in two dimensions than they do in three. Furthermore, two-dimensional particles exhibit different properties in two dimension, which could be helpful for their experiment.Bocquet said, "In Physics, two dimensions are very strange." "So, you can expect new things to happen."The researchers tested the model in a computer simulation and found that the ions in water form worm-like structures when an electric field is applied to it.These structures would be broken down slowly enough that the team could use a stronger electric field to simulate them. This left behind a memory, or hint of the longer configuration.Researchers ran simulations linking two channels and other parts to simulate the behavior of neurons. They found that the model could produce spikes in electrical activity, similar to action potentials. The model also "remembered", consistent properties in two states, one where ions conducted more and one where they conducted fewer.This simulation showed that the "memory of the previous state" of the ions only lasted for a few milliseconds. It took real neurons the same amount of time to create an action potential and return the body to its resting state.This is quite long for ions who usually work on timescales of nanoseconds. An action potential is a neuronal memory that is stored in cellular cells. Our brains create this type of memory by opening and closing ion channels.Bocquet stated that although we have a similar memory at the end, the cause of the phenomenon is quite different.Make a "memory"This new model is an electronic component known as a memristor or a memory resistor. It has the unique ability to retain information from its past. However, memristors that exist don't use liquid like the brain.Gina Adam, assistant professor of electrical engineering at George Washington University and not part of the study, stated that "the typical memristors I work with, as well as other people in literature work with", and that they are solid-state memristors. Adam said that the new research into fluid memristors was "very promising" and "very intriguing."She said that although practical brain-like computers may be a ways off, scientists could benefit from this research to better understand the brain's processing of information and create new theories for brain-like computing.Bocquet and his collaborators from the University of Manchester, UK, have made their theory come to life by using computer simulations to simulate the process. They have also used it to create an artificial synapte, which is the part of the neuron that transmits electric signals. And they are now performing experiments with it.Bocquet stated, "It's thrilling because it's now a playground." These things can be explored actively.Similar content:Sherlock Holmes' famed memory trick worksPhotos of Albert Einstein's brainDiscover 10 brain discoveries that are fascinating, from thought control to dino brainsLive Science originally published this article. 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