This article points to the possibility of Using Heat to Compute a thermal logic gate, which could be a great way to make a new type of computer that is powered by a heat source. At first pass, it didn’t really strike me as that significant.
After all, just because you can build a logic gate that works with heat, it doesn’t mean there is any major relevant or timely breakthrough. But then the word “phonon” caught my eye. Not many people know what a phonon is, let alone what it can do.
Phonons are simply packets of vibrational energy that move through a lattice of a usually solid material. The vibrational energy can be produced by heat (obviously), impact, stress or other physical perturbation of the material.
A few years ago, it was discovered that one could amplify the phononic “waves” in a material like one amplifies light waves in a laser. The ability of these phononic waves to do real work has been known for a long time, though the mechanism was not understood at the phononic level if you will.
The phononic waves (vibrations) can be used to diagnose structural problems (think of glassblowers striking their glassware to make sure it “rings true”). A recent article from the UK told about a vibrational method of discovering dental “caries” (cavities to the dentally challenged).
They vibrate the teeth and examine the excitation pattern. It seems that a carie causes the tooth to vibrate differently from a “good” tooth.
The interesting implication for this article suggests the possibility of a really solid, “solid-state” computer; one that is driven by phononic waves- generated not only by Using Heat to Compute but perhaps by impact or stress as well. In such a world, maybe getting mad and slapping the tar out of your computer will be just the thing to get it jumpstarted.