UL team helps create new molecule to bypass computer bottlenecks

1 Sep 2021

Prof Damien Thompson. Image: University of Limerick

The Limerick researchers are excited about their discovery as devices made with the new molecule ‘show all the hallmarks of brain computing’.

A research team at the University of Limerick (UL) played a key part in the development of a new molecule which could be used to speed up decision-making in computers.

This development has the potential to save energy and form a new type of computer architecture. The UL team anticipates major implications for fields from finance to bioinformatics.

Damien Thompson is a professor in physics at UL and leads a research team in predictive materials design at the Bernal Institute. Using the Irish Centre for High-End Computing supercomputer, this team discovered a molecule that uses natural asymmetry to easily switch between different states. This property is what could allow for ultra-fast decision-making in computers.

The molecule of interest is just 77 atoms but could provide a new fundamental electronic circuit element. The metal-organic compounds were synthesised by collaborators in Kolkata, made into films in Singapore and tested as circuit elements in Colorado and Texas. The findings published were published in Nature.

Thompson claimed this molecule’s use in new devices would remove the need to move information around. He explained that by removing the von Neumann bottleneck problem, the discovery had the potential to save enormously on time and energy costs.

“We are excited about the possibilities because the devices show all the hallmarks of brain computing,” said Thompson.

“First, a huge number of tiny, identical molecular processors are networked together and work in parallel. More importantly, they show both redundancy and reconfigurability, which means the device can solve problems even if the individual components do not all work perfectly all the time or in the exact same way every time.

“The new circuit elements could provide computers that are smaller, faster, and more energy efficient – exactly what is needed for edge computing, internet of things and artificial intelligence applications,” Thompson concluded.

Professor Luuk van der Wielen, director of the Bernal Institute, said that the breakthrough demonstrated the value of the facility.

“This high-impact research reinforces the ambition of the Bernal Institute at UL to impact the world on the basis of top science in an increasingly international context. This is a continuation of Bernal scientists’ world-leading contribution to the field of predictive materials modelling,” he said.

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news