U receives $28 million microelectronics grant

The grant will create a new center at the University of Minnesota, leading 13 other universities.

Rebecca Harrington

While today’s computers use semiconductors and electron charge to store memory, the computers of the future could use electron spin.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota will investigate how to build these computers at the new Center for Spintronic Materials, Interfaces and Novel Architectures, which received a $28 million grant, the University announced on Thursday.

C-SPIN includes 31 professors from 13 universities. It is one of six centers created by the Semiconductor Technology Advanced Research network, which is a partnership between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the semiconductor industry.

Center director and electrical and computer engineering professor Jian-Ping Wang has been working on related research for the last eight years. He said this new approach is necessary because the industry can’t make semiconductors much better than they are today.

“We have the chance,” Wang said, “to make the processor consume lower energy, make them even smaller, and hopefully we can make them cheap, but that’s the part we don’t know yet.”

Associate director Steven Koester said researchers have computational problems that are too big to solve on today’s computers, because there isn’t enough energy to solve them.

The new microelectronics will be able to solve bigger problems because they’ll be smaller, faster and consume less energy than current semiconductors do. Koester said this could reduce the amount of energy huge data centers consume, for example.

C-SPIN will bring together three disciplines in computing that existed autonomously before to create the computers of the future in the next six to eight years.
“In the big picture,” Koester said, “it really could be revolutionary.”