Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have designed a computer chip that mimics how the human brain works.
The silicon chip is said to be able to simulate a single brain synapse, which is the connection between two neurons that allows information to flow from one to the other.
This phenomenon is believed to underlie many brain functions, including learning and memory.
The MIT researchers designed their computer chip with about 400 transistors, which aim to mimic the activity of charged atoms flowing between ion channels found where two neurons meet. The charged atoms include chemicals such as sodium, potassium and calcium.
Chi-Sang Poon, senior author of the paper and principal research scientist in the Harvard-MIT division of health sciences and technology, said: ‘We now have a way to capture each and every ionic process that’s going on in a neuron.’
The researchers anticipate this chip will help neuroscientists learn much more about how the brain works, and could also be used in neural prosthetic devices such as artificial retinas.
Dean Buonomano, a professor of neurobiology at California University, said the chip’s level of biological realism was impressive. ’[It represents] a significant advance in the efforts to incorporate what we know about the biology of neurons and synaptic plasticity onto complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor chips.’
The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.