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Single-walled carbon nanotube and multi-walled carbon nanotube  (Source: itech.dickinson.edu)
Carbon Nanotubes used to create a synapse circuit

University of Southern California researchers have come one step closer to building a synthetic brain through the invention of a carbon nanotube synapse circuit. 

Professor Alice Parker and Professor Chongwu Zhou, leaders of the study from the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, have developed a carbon nanotube synapse circuit that acts like a neuron, and could potentially be used to create a synthetic brain in an effort to better understand brain function.  

Parker and Zhou wanted to use carbon nanotubes specifically because they are exceptionally tiny carbon structures that can be used as semiconductors or metallic conductors in electronic circuits. 

"This is a necessary first step in the process," said Parker. "We wanted to answer the question: Can you build a circuit that would act like a neuron? The next step is even more complex. How can we build structures out of these circuits that mimic the function of the brain, which has 100 billion neurons and 10,000 synapses per neuron?"

While this research is in the beginning stages, the team plans to create a network of analog circuits that act similarly to the human brain's complex connections between neurons. The next step is to increase the plasticity in the circuits in order to make them more life-like and functional like the human brain.  

Parker and Zhou believe the development of a network of analog circuits in a synthetic human brain could lead to prosthetic nanotechnology that would aid in the treatment of brain injuries. It could also lead to new auto technology that would protect drivers in a whole new way.

A complete synthetic brain or a functional brain area will not be completed for decades, according to Parker. The brain's complex processes such as producing neurons and making connections will be difficult to reproduce, but this research is a crucial first step in that direction. 





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