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April 13, 1992


By CBR Staff Writer

Researchers at Oxford University and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California have developed, using analogue technology, an electronic neuron that mimics a biological neuron’s electrical behaviour, Microbytes Daily reports. Neurons within the human brain communicate by sending nerve pulses to each other. The electrical behaviour of the neuron and its related nerve pulses are governed by Voltage, ion and neurotransmitter conductances which directly control the flow of current between the neurons themselves. The analogue silicon neuron uses CMOS circuits to simulate the different ion currents flowing to and from the neuron. The external electrical properties of the real and the fabricated neuron are said to be virtually the same. The actual neuron developed was designed to emulate a specific neuron in one part of the brain, but because each ion current is simulated by a small electronic circuit, virtually any type of neuron could be replicated, the researchers say. The finished silicon neuron measures less than 0.1mm square and researchers estimate they will be able to incorporate up to 200 devices on a silicon die. And, eat your hearts out, brain cells, researchers have found that the thing has a raw speed of the order of one million times faster than its biological equivalent – but research team members believe that the speed and dynamics of the device will need to match the real neuron if the device is to simulate a neuron’s response to external stimuli accurately.

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