Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Strongly interacting electrons in wacky oxide synchronize to work like the brain


Current computing is based on binary logic -- zeroes and ones -- also called Boolean computing, but a new type of computing architecture stores information in the frequencies and phases of periodic signals and could work more like the human brain using a fraction of the energy necessary for today's computers, according to a team of engineers.

Vanadium dioxide is called a "wacky oxide" because it transitions from a conducting metal to an insulating semiconductor and vice versa with the addition of a small amount of heat or electrical current. A device created by electrical engineers at Penn State uses a thin film of vanadium oxide on a titanium dioxide substrate to create an oscillating switch.

This is a cartoon of an oscillating switch, the basis of a new type of low-power analog computing.

Credit: Credit: Nikhil Shukla, Penn State

Using a standard electrical engineering trick, Nikhil Shukla, graduate student in electrical engineering, added a series resistor to the oxide device to stabilize oscillations over billions of cycles. When Shukla added a second similar oscillating system, he discovered that, over time, the two devices began to oscillate in unison. This coupled system could provide the basis for non-Boolean computing. Shukla worked with Suman Datta, professor of electrical engineering, and co-advisor Roman Engel-Herbert, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, Penn State. They reported their results today (May 14) in Scientific Reports.

"It's called a small-world network," explained Shukla. "You see it in lots of biological systems, such as certain species of fireflies. The males will flash randomly, but then for some unknown reason the flashes synchronize over time."

The brain is also a small-world network of closely clustered nodes that evolved for more efficient information processing.

"Biological synchronization is everywhere," added Datta. "We wanted to use it for a different kind of computing called associative processing, which is an analog rather than digital way to compute."

An array of oscillators can store patterns -- for instance, the color of someone's hair, their height and skin texture. If a second area of oscillators has the same pattern, they will begin to synchronize, and the degree of match can be read out.

"They are doing this sort of thing already digitally, but it consumes tons of energy and lots of transistors," Datta said.

Datta is collaborating with Vijay Narayanan, professor of computer science and engineering, Penn State, in exploring the use of these coupled oscillations to solve visual recognition problems more efficiently than existing embedded vision processors.

Shukla and Datta called on the expertise of Cornell University materials scientist Darrell Schlom to make the vanadium dioxide thin film, which has extremely high quality similar to single crystal silicon. Arijit Raychowdhury, computer engineer, and Abhinav Parihar graduate student, both of Georgia Tech, mathematically simulated the nonlinear dynamics of coupled phase transitions in the vanadium dioxide devices. Parihar created a short video simulation of the transitions, which occur at a rate close to a million times per second, to show the way the oscillations synchronize. Venkatraman Gopalan, professor of materials science and engineering, Penn State, used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to visually characterize the structural changes occurring in the oxide thin film in the midst of the oscillations.

Datta believes it will take seven to 10 years to scale up from their current network of two-three coupled oscillators to the 100 million or so closely packed oscillators required to make a neuromorphic computer chip. One of the benefits of the novel device is that it will use only about one percent of the energy of digital computing, allowing for new ways to design computers. Much work remains to determine if vanadium dioxide can be integrated into current silicon wafer technology.

"It's a fundamental building block for a different computing paradigm that is analog rather than digital," said Shukla.


Also contributing to this work are Eugene Freeman and Greg Stone, all of Penn State; Haidan Wen and Zhonghou Cai, Argonne National Laboratory; and Hanjong Paik, Cornell University.

The Office of Naval Research primarily supported this work. The National Science Foundation's Expeditions in Computing Award also supported this work.

A'ndrea Elyse Messer | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Laboratory dioxide electrons fireflies heat materials oscillate oscillations oscillators

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging
25.10.2016 | Colorado State University

nachricht Did you know that infrared heating is an essential part of automotive manufacture?
25.10.2016 | Heraeus Noblelight GmbH

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

First results of NSTX-U research operations

26.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica

26.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>