Human devices, from light bulbs to iPods, send information using electrons. Human bodies and all other living things, on the other hand, send signals and perform work using ions or protons. Materials scientists at the University of Washington have built a novel transistor that uses protons, creating a key piece for devices that can communicate directly with living things. The study is published online this week in the interdisciplinary journal Nature Communications.
Devices that connect with the human body’s processes are being explored for biological sensing or for prosthetics, but they typically communicate using electrons, which are negatively charged particles, rather than protons, which are positively charged hydrogen atoms, or ions, which are atoms with positive or negative charge.
“So there’s always this issue, a challenge, at the interface – how does an electronic signal translate into an ionic signal, or vice versa?” said lead author Marco Rolandi, a UW assistant professor of materials science and engineering. “We found a biomaterial that is very good at conducting protons, and allows the potential to interface with living systems.”