Manu Prakash: The man behind the World’s First Water-based Computer

Computers and water- can they both be linked in any way even in your rarest of the rare imaginations? Well, not until you have heard about Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University. He, along with his students, has recently built a synchronous computer that operates using the unique physics of moving water droplets.

Born in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Prakash pursued a B.Tech in computer science and engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur before moving to the United States. He did his master’s and PhD in applied physics at MIT, USA before founding the Prakash Lab at Stanford.

Pic courtesy: Kurt Hickman
Pic courtesy: Kurt Hickman

Prakash developed the water computer with the help of two of his students Jim Cybulski and Georgios Katsikis at Stanford University. What he did was devise a system in which tiny water droplets are trapped in a magnetic field. When the field is rotated of flipped, the droplets move in a precise direction and distance. This became the basis of the computer clock, which is an essential component of any computer. This breakthrough could prove to be extremely useful in number of applications in the field of biology, chemistry and digital manufacturing.

“We already have digital computers to process information. Our goal is not to compete with electronic computers or to operate word processors on this,” Prakash said. “Our goal is to build a completely new class of computers that can precisely control and manipulate physical matter. Imagine if when you run a set of computations that not only information is processed but physical matter is algorithmically manipulated as well. We have just made this possible at the mesoscale.”mannu prakash

Prakash had already amazed the world last year by building a paper microscope, also called ‘foldscope’- a bookmark-sized piece of layered cardstock with a micro-lens which only costs about 50 cents in materials to make. Prakash’s dream is that this ultra-low-cost microscope will someday be distributed widely to detect dangerous blood-borne diseases like malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis and Chagas. “I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free,” says Prakash.foldscope

For his work, Prakash has been named one of Popular Science magazine’s “Brilliant 10” for 2014. He was also recently included in Technology Review’s list of 35 innovators under 35.

Prakash’s inventions may be designed to address complicated problems, but their low cost and simple designs make them accessible to everyone. “Scientific tools have been built and designed and kept in the silos of universities,” Prakash says. He wants to bring them to the masses. He has proved that why it is said that the Indian engineers and scientists dominate the entire world with their brilliance.

Admirable India

Posted by: Anup Sharma

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