Interference Patterns Harnessed For Optical Logic Gates

The basics of digital logic are pretty easy to master, and figuring out how the ones and zeroes flow through various kinds of gates is often an interesting exercise. Taking things down a level and breaking the component AND, OR, and NOR gates down to their underlying analog circuits adds some complexity, but the flow of electrons is still pretty understandable. Substitute all that for photons, though, and you’ll enter a strange world indeed.

At least that’s our take on [Jeroen Vleggaar]’s latest project, which is making logic gates from purely optical components. As he himself admits in the video below, this isn’t exactly unexplored territory, but his method, which uses constructive and destructive interference, seems not to have been used before. The basic “circuit” consists of a generator, a pair of diffraction patterns etched into a quartz plate, and an evaluator, which is basically a pinhole in another plate positioned to coincide with the common focal point of the generator patterns. An OR gate is formed when the two generators are hit with in-phase monochromatic light. Making the two inputs out of phase by 180° results in an XOR gate, as destructive interference between the two inputs prevents any light from making it out of the evaluator.

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Making Logic With Inductors

NOR

We’ve seen NAND and NOR logic gates – the building blocks of everything digital – made out of everything from marbles to Minecraft redstone. [kos] has outdone himself this time with a logic circuit we’ve never seen before. It’s based on magnets and induction, making a NOR gate out of nothing but a ferrite core, some wire, and a diode.

The theory of operations for this magnetic NOR gate goes as follows: If two of the input windings around the core have current passing in different directions, the fields cancel out. This could either be done by positive or negative voltages, or by simply changing the phase of the winding. To keep things simple, [kos] chose the latter. The truth table for a simple two-input, one-output gate gets pretty complicated (or exceedingly cool if you’d like to build a trinary computer), so to get absolute values of 1 and 0, a separate ‘clock’ winding was also added to the core.

One thing to note about [kos]’ gate is its innovation on techniques described in the relevant literature. Previously, these kinds of magnetic gates were built with square ferrites, while this version can work with any magnetic core.

While this isn’t a very practical approach towards building anything more complex than a memory cell, it is an exercise of what could have been in an alternate universe where tube technology and the transistor just didn’t happen.

Apollo Guidance Computer Clone


[Cliff Miller] pointed out this incredible project from 2004. [John Pultorak]’s journey began in late 2000 when he decided to build a 60’s or 70’s era minicomputer. While gathering technical documentation, he found some interesting information on the Apollo Guidance Computer and felt that was the way to go. The AGC was the first integrated circuit computer ever built. Designed by MIT in 1964 it was constructed from ~5000 ICs, almost all 3-input NOR gates. [John]’s version uses late 1960’s 74LS TTL logic which gains him a 10 to 1 reduction in the number of ICs. A good thing when you have to do ~15K wirewrap connections. He also used flipflops and register chips instead of building everything from NOR gates. [John] essentially built the AGC three times: First, he coded a simulator in C++. Then, he imported the logic design into CircuitMaker to verify that it would actually work. Finally, he built the 3 by 5foot machine. He’s provided an amazing amount of documentation for anyone that wants to explore this device and the overview alone is well worth a look.