Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Ultra-low Power Computation in the Nano-scaleAlthough they have fueled a global technology revolution, the electronic transistors that lie at the heart of digital logic in computers are actually energy-inefficient. To enable ultra-low power computation, several radically-different designs to replace or complement transistors are under consideration. One of them is the nanoelectromechanical switch – an extremely small device that physically opens and closes to turn signals on and off. These switches have the potential to be up to one million times more energy efficient than transistors, but are not always reliable. Specifically, the electrically conducting contacting surfaces must open and close up to a quadrillion (a million billion) times without wearing out or becoming contaminated.
Associate professor Maarten de Boer, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering Gianluca Piazza and a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop reliable nanomechanical relays.
This project’s objectives are to understand the failure mechanisms that occur in these switches, and to discover, develop, and demonstrate new materials and operating conditions that satisfy cycling requirements. The collaboration will involve quantum and atomistic theory, and experimentation including micro- and nanofabrication of new materials and testing in highly controlled environments.
The photo illustrates the top view of a four-terminal piezoelectric nanomechanical switch fabricated by the Piazza group in the CMU nanofabrication facility (a), the edge-on magnified image of the contact area (b), and a close-up of a 28 nm air gap between the tip and the drain (c).