Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#MATERIALS: "Make Waves, Not Electricity, to Save Power"

Today the crystalline structures in microchips conduct electricity that wastes power by generating heat from friction as the electrons burrow through semiconductors to perform computations. Charge-density waves, on the other hand, burn less power by encoding data on modulations in the semiconductor's crystalline lattice.

Researchers at the University of California at Riverside have received a $1.5 million grant to encode data as charge-density waves instead of electrical current, thereby cutting the power requirements for digital electronic devices.
Charge-density waves have been known for almost a century, but this UC Riverside research group claims to be the first to use them to encode information. By encoding information as the collective states of a semiconductor's crystalline lattice, instead of an electrical current, the researchers aim to drastically lower the power needed to perform computations in semiconductors. In that way, many more charge-density wave computations can be performed using the same amount of power as conventional computers.
Encoding data on charge-density waves was the brainchild of electrical engineer Alex Balandin, chairman of the materials science and engineering program at UC Riverside, and recipient of this year's Pioneer of Nanotechnology Award from the IEEE Nanotechnology Council. Balandin is collaborating on the project with fellow Professor of Electrical Engineering Roger Lake, as well as University of Georgia Professor of Chemistry John Stickney.
The new charge-density wave efforts will create a material and data encoding technology that complements the conventional silicon transistors used today, allowing the new devices to be fabricated on the same chips using conventional complementary-metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) manufacturing processes. Operating at room temperature, and without requiring any specialized materials such as ferroelectrics, charge-density waves can process digital information with far less electrical resistance than today.
Prototypes that prove the concept have been built in Balandin's Nano-Device Laboratory using materials grown in Stickney's lab. Various combinations of the phase, frequency and amplitude of charge-density waves are being tried out to encode data. One of the most promising encoding algorithms so far uses interference among the multiple charge-density waves, which has the potential to encode massive amount information, which could then be processed in parallel using much less energy than today.
The $1.5 million award was won in the "Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond" competition, a joint effort of the National Science Foundation and the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative of the Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC—a technology research consortium whose members include Intel and IBM).
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