While the silicon chips found in the electronic devices that we rely on every day are built around the flow of electrons through circuits, with the development of an “integrated chemical chip,” a doctoral student in Organic Electronics at Sweden’s Linköping University has created the basis for an entirely new circuit technology based on the transmission of ions and molecules.

While the Organic Electronics research group at Linköping University had previously developed ion transistors capable of transporting both positive and negative ions, as well as biomolecules, doctoral student Klas Tybrandt has gone one step further by combining both types of transistor into complementary circuits, similar to the way traditional silicon-based electronics are formed.

Like silicon-based chips, the integrated chemical chip contains logic gates, such as NAND gates, that form the basis of digital electronics by allowing for the construction of all logical functions.

But unlike traditional silicon-based electronics in which electrons act as the charge carrier, the chemical circuits use chemical substances. The researchers say that because the chemical substances can have various functions, the chemical chip provides new opportunities to control and regulate the signal paths of cells in the human body.

“We can, for example, send out signals to muscle synapses where the signaling system may not work for some reason,” says Magnus Berggren, Professor of Organic Electronics and leader of the research group. “We know our chip works with common signaling substances, for example acetylcholine.”

The breakthrough comes on the back of work begun three years ago by Tybrandt and Berggren to develop ion transistors that can control and transport ions and charged biomolecules. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet then used the transistors to control the delivery to individual cells of acetylcholine, which acts as a neurotransmitter in the peripheral, central, autonomic and somatic nervous systems.

The integrated chemical chip is detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.