Student creates first liquid computer

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    Correction: The liquid-cooled-submerged computer achieves a mild form of super fluidity to decrease the resistance of computer wires.

    He could hear the excitement building next door – the clappers and noisemakers of partygoers celebrating 2005’s final hours.

    John Campbell, then 22, sat in his house adjacent to that New Year’s Eve party on Kell Street in southwest Fort Worth. Anxious with anticipation and far from celebrating, he couldn’t enjoy his beer. He was alone in a computer world and about to meet his final judgment with the push of a button.

    After a year of experimentation, 10 to 15 old computers and more than $500 in cash, Campbell’s best invention, an arcade machine-sized freezer brimming with gooey liquids, ice and techno-pieces, was ready to boot for the first time.

    Fifteen minutes before midnight, Campbell’s “liquid computer” came alive in his bedroom, the first of its kind. The computer’s debut resulted in an early New Year’s celebration next door when Campbell entered the party like a soldier home early from a victory at war.

    At that moment, the jovial 22-year-old would have seemed like any other undergraduate arriving to a party of friends. But one thing is certain – at that moment, Campbell fully intended to spark a computer-technology revolution with the items in his freezer next door. Since then, Campbell, along with his team of five specialists in areas such as materials, programming, chemistry and engineering, have reduced the size of the original liquid computer to that of a modern desktop. The technology, which Campbell says is 70 to 90 percent unpatented, achieves a mild form of super fluidity, a frictionless flow of liquid at extremely low temperatures, to increase the resistance of computer wires, which allows for a greater flow of electricity and higher efficiency.

    “There hasn’t been a fundamental change in computer technology since 1982, and since then, it has just been putting more things in smaller places,” Campbell said. “I think it’s about time for something completely new that is so practical you can’t ignore it.”

    Campbell says one benefit his technology, if adopted and funded, could bring to science is that it could rapidly increase the speed of super computers used in medical research, such as those that take three years to pick out an aspect of the human genome.

    “Whether it’s developed next year or 20 years from now, for every new advance in technology, I can more than double or triple it,” Campbell said. “I can completely change the rule. Everything will be twice as fast and faster for the global economy.”

    While Campbell calls the liquid computer technology “potential Nobel material,” he realizes he must publish and patent his materials before he can develop a marketing plan.

    That isn’t a problem for Campbell, who said he is simultaneously trying to publish in marketing, physics and political science.

    Collectively, those who know Campbell on and around campus had less to say about the liquid computer and more to say about Campbell’s unique ability to “think outside the box,” as termed by Mike Wood, an advertising professional-in-residence who taught Campbell in his global advertising campaigns course last fall.

    Campbell said Mike Wood’s global campaigns team, which is separate from the course, is ranked No. 8 out of more than 600 universities competing in a national marketing contest this semester. While Campbell is not a team member, he said the group will use a marketing model he created, one that “doesn’t take the normal route.”

    Wood wouldn’t talk about Campbell’s model for competitive reasons, which he jokingly referred to as a matter of “national security,” but he said Campbell’s passions should take him above and beyond the call of duty.

    “I think in today’s technological world, John will go far based really on his own incentives, his own initiative, his knowledge,” Wood said. “I mean John has a passion for what he does, and his passion is meshing exactly at the right time with where the industry is headed. I think people who love their jobs succeed.”

    Campbell, now a senior political science major, has a history of pursuing diverse interests. When he was 17, three days before September 11, 2001, Campbell moved to Germany to participate in a student-exchange program with the American Field Service, which taught him to jump off roofs, a skill he said he could use to counter street traffic on his way to a U.S. Air Force base in the event of an emergency. Campbell jumped off the roof of his home to demonstrate his skill during an interview.

    Campbell said he is a first-generation Texan, but spent most of his earlier years in Europe. After transferring to TCU from the College of Saint Thomas More, Campbell served multiple positions in TCU’s Student Government Association. In addition, he started a computer repair business in his home, which he moved to a building directly behind his house that he now sub-contracts with Computers Made Easy, an Internet cafe and computer training center for senior citizens and the disabled. Campbell said he has been able to repair every computer received in the past four years.

    “Anything from a virus to ‘it won’t start’ to ‘our grandson came over and now it blue screens on me’ or ‘what is all this stuff popping up’ or ‘it’s running so slow I can’t even use it’ or ‘sometimes it won’t even start,’ John can fix it all,” said David Vaughan, owner of Computers Made Easy, located in Westcliff Shopping Center.

    But for a man such as Campbell, who has a list of 27 inventions to patent, a computer business and many more business and political endeavors to pursue, it is easy to get lost in projects.

    “Smart people are weird … When you work so in depth on a project, especially a project that’s most difficult, it just consumes you,” Campbell said. “There are ups and downs to that, and what starts happening is when people ask how I am doing, and I’ve been put down so many times for doing this before I caught on, I say how things are going, how the projects are. When you do that for so long, it becomes part of you.”

    Campbell said a friend once grabbed him by the shoulders and told him not to talk about how things are going and instead answer the question “how is John Campbell doing?”

    C. A. Quarles, a physics and astronomy professor who has known Campbell for several years, said the possible downside of a person who is very inventive is that he or she may become so focused on a project that he or she is unable to appreciate the realities of it. But Quarles said Campbell’s liquid computer invention is “quite interesting.”

    “The interesting thing is that it’s a technological sort of thing and it’s not like something you would expect a college student doing something with,” Quarles said. “It’s always amazing to learn that a student is doing something really different from what you would expect conventional college activities to be.”


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