At the International Centre of Unconventional Computing – part of the University of the West of England in Bristol – computer scientists are looking to slime moulds for inspiration in solving complex geometry problems.
Calculating the shape of a polygon linking different points on a surface is a difficult task which is essential to creating realistic graphics in computer games and animated movies. Smoother and more life-like graphics can be achieved when these calculations are carried out quickly.
Andrew Adamatzky, Professor of Unconventional Computing in the Department of Computer Science, is investigating how the behaviour of the slime mould Physarum polycephalum
can contribute to our understanding of how best to carry out these calculations.
The life cycle of P. polycephalum
consists of many stages, but the stage which most concerns Professor Adamatzky is its vegetative plasmodium state. At this point, it is basically a single cell containing multiple nuclei and can explore its environment with tube-like appendages in search of food. These tubes absorb nutrients as quickly and efficiently as possible using minimal resources.
"Plasmodium's foraging behaviour can be interpreted as computation, when data are represented by spatial configurations of attractants and repellents, and results by structures of protoplasmic network," Professor Adamatzky explained.
The aim is to grow a network of plasmodium tubes which represent the optimum lines of connectivity between attractant points while avoiding repellent points. The researchers have found that the valerian and hop extracts in over-the-counter natural sleeping pills attract the foraging plasmodium over relatively long distances, while the magnesium stearate, stearic acid and titanium dioxide in the tablets repel it over shorter distances.
"When presented with a half-pill of the Kalms tablets the plasmodium propagates towards the pill and forms, with its protoplasmic tubes, a circular enclosure around the pill," said Professor Adamatzky.
Although the research is ongoing, it is hoped that it will provide clues for the future of non-linear chemical components for computer processors rather than the conventional silicon parts.