US Universities to Use Nanoelectronics to Design Replacement for the Silicon Transistor

Purdue University's Network for Computational Nanotechnology will share $2 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and a consortium of electronics companies to advance nanoelectronics research.

Centers at six U.S. universities, including Purdue's Network for Computational Nanotechnology, are researching replacements for the standard silicon transistor, the critical component in computer chips that the microelectronics industry has used in making digital and analog circuits for 30 years.

Researchers at the centers are working to demonstrate novel computing devices and their feasibility in simple computer circuits within the next five to 10 years.

"Without the breakthrough we hope to find, the phenomenal advances in semiconductor capabilities will slow drastically as we reach the fundamental limits of current technology in the next decade or so," said Jeff Welser, director of the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative.

Mark Lundstrom, the Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, leads Purdue's Network for Computational Nanotechnology, working with a team of researchers at the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Discovery Park.

"Researchers in Network for Computational Nanotechnology will explore new concepts for electronic devices by extending the theoretical approaches and computational methods that we have developed for silicon transistors," Lundstrom said.

"These new simulation capabilities will be provided to the research community through NCN's science gateway, the nanoHUB. This grant keeps us on the cutting edge of research in this important field of technology, engineering and science," Lundstrom said.

Nanoelectronics focuses on creating a class of electronic devices that contains features measured in nanometers, equivalent to one-billionth of a meter. A nanometer is about the size of 10 atoms strung together.

The Network for Computational Nanotechnology, which also gains support from researchers at Discovery Park's Cyber Center, was launched in 2002 with a five-year, $10.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Other network members are the University of California at Berkeley, University of Illinois, the University of Florida, Norfolk State University, Northwestern University, Stanford University and the University of Texas at El Paso.

The other five teams sharing the $2 million supplemental grants from the National Science Foundation and Nanoelectronics Research Initiative are the:

  • Center for Nanoscale Systems in Information Technologies at Cornell University.
  • Center for Nanoscopic Materials Design at the University of Virginia and the University of California at Santa Barbara.
  • Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the University of Maryland and the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Center for Research on Interface Structures and Phenomena at Yale University.
  • Quantum and Spin Phenomena in Nanomagnetic Structures at the University of Nebraska's Lincoln and Omaha campuses.

The six companies participating in the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative are Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Freescale Semiconductor Inc., IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Micron Technology Inc., and Texas Instruments Inc. They will assign researchers to collaborate with the university teams, said Lawrence Goldberg, National Science Foundation senior engineering adviser.

These grants are in addition to six grants made to NSF centers last year, expanding and strengthening the commitment to the program, Goldberg said.

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