Conductive Gel Has Potential

There are some technologies first imagined in the Star Trek universe have already come to exist in the modern day. Communicators, tablet computers, and computer voice recognition are nearly as good as seen in the future, and other things like replicators and universal translators are well on their way. Star Trek: Voyager introduced a somewhat ignored piece of futuristic technology, the bio-neural gel pack. Supposedly, the use of an organic gel improved the computer processing power on the starship. This wasn’t explored too much on the series, but [Tom] is nonetheless taking the first steps to recreating this futuristic technology by building circuitry using conductive gel.

[Tom]’s circuitry relies on the fact that salts in a solution can conduct electricity, so in theory filling a pipe or tube with a saline solution should function similarly to a wire. He’s also using xanthan gum to increase viscosity. While the gel mixture doesn’t have quite the conductivity of copper, with a slight increase in the supplied voltage to the circuit it’s easily able to be used to light LEDs. Unlike copper, however, these conductive gel-filled tubes have some unique properties. For example, filling a portion of the tube with conductive gel and the rest with non-conductive mineral oil and pushing and pulling the mixture through the tube allows the gel to move around and engage various parts of a circuit in a way that a simple copper wire wouldn’t be able to do.

In this build specifically, [Tom] is using a long tube with a number of leads inserted into it, each of which correspond to a number on a nixie tube. By moving the conductive gel, surrounded by mineral oil, back and forth through the tube at precise intervals each of the numbers on the nixie tube can be selected for. It’s not yet quite as good as the computer imagined in Voyager but it’s an interesting concept nonetheless, not unlike this working replica of a communicator badge.

24 thoughts on “Conductive Gel Has Potential

    1. Good question, yeah the system has a few issues but from what I saw the gel is pretty immiscible with oil short of literally blending them with a whisk. I think the high polarity of polysaccharide chains (xanthan) hydrogen bonded to water make it pretty unfavorable to mix with non polar oil. The bigger problem was the gel hitting the wires inserted into the tube and splitting up into beads.

  1. ‘Star Trek: Voyager introduced a somewhat ignored piece of futuristic technology, the bio-neural gel pack.’

    Star Trek ‘futuristic technologies’ are all just VP level word salads. Not to be examined technically or taken at all seriously.

    It’s common in Science fiction to do this once and examine the social implications of that change (e.g. positronic brains could fairly be called ‘word salad’).
    Drek on the other hand, just used a word salad as initial plot complication, then another to wrap it all up in a bow (they ran out of shooting time).

    Red Dwarf had a more coherent backstory. The evolution of cat made more sense then the future history of the federation.

      1. Red Dwarf was able to handwave a lot of advanced technology because the crew usually didn’t have the capacity to explain it themselves. The hard light drive was acquired from Legion, a superintelligence that was a better take on the Borg than ST’s Borg, so none of the crew knew how it worked thus no need for explanations.

        1. my point. having to describe in detail all technology in science fiction only makes it harder to “suspend disbelief” and enjoy it. After all (everything else in most of the stories) warp drive, hyperspace, transtators, alderson drive, ramscoops, wormholes, photon torpedos are as much nonsense as commercial fusion power and flying cars for the masses … far as we know NOW…. theyre ALL just “word salads” even if “plausable” theories exist but the technology currently is, and may always be, out of reach (or dead wrong). We don’t know .To me they are for fun and speculation (mycelial network is a really tough one for me to get past). As long as it fits somewhat within the story being told I find it somewhat entertaining at least. If we are really lucky (or unlucky depending) some few may someday be realized as they have been deemed to in the past. To paraphrase A. C. Clark Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from inexplicable nonsense.

          1. As I understand it, ramscoops are a well defined technology, not a word salad. The math has been worked out, and the technology found to be inadequate for the intended purpose.

    1. “The Enterprise computer system is controlled by three primary main processor cores, cross-linked with a redundant melacortz ramistat, fourteen kiloquad interface modules. The core element is based on an FTL nanoprocessor with 25 bilateral kelilactirals, with twenty of those being slaved into the primary heisenfram terminal. This is the isopalavial interface, which controls the main firomactal drive unit. “

  2. Those are some clever ideas and I’m looking forward to exploring with xanthan gum. Your intuition about the source of resistance isn’t quite right, though. The salt water is likely to be pretty conductive but the electro surface area is too small to take advantage of it. Most of the voltage drop (i.e., resistance) is occurring within about 3 wire diameters of the surface of the wire when you put them in the beaker. That’s why it didn’t make much difference if the wires were close together or far apart. Less than 10% of the total resistance is in the bulk solution.
    Try larger diameter wires to reduce the resistance.
    It will also help to use stainless (or gold) as your electrode to reduce polarization. Or, even better, use low amplitude AC instead of DC circuits.

    1. Tempting to use SS but not really a good idea. You’ll generate nasty hexavalent chromium that way. Better off pulling the graphite out of some zinc carbon batteries.

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