BUFFALO, N.Y. – Jonathan Bird and Uttam Singisetti
don’t act like renegades – both dress neatly and are
polite in conversation.
But steer the discussion to computing power, specifically
society’s uncompromising demand for more of it, and the
radical in both University at Buffalo researchers begins to
“Industry’s ability to build faster, less expensive
and more powerful computers will likely reach an end in 10 or 15
years” said Bird, UB professor of electrical engineering.
“The reason: electrical transistors that make computing
possible are getting so small they’ll soon be on an atomic
level. There’s nowhere to go from there.”
That is, unless you change how electronics work.
Bird and Singisetti, UB assistant professor of electrical
engineering, are the recipients of a five-year, $850,000 grant that
aims to do just that. Part of a larger $7.1 million effort based at
the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for NanoFerroic
Devices (CFND), the UB grant will fund low-power computing
experiments that involve magnetoelectric and ferroelectric
Before describing the research, here’s a primer on modern
electronics and spintronics, a promising field of study that
relates to the work of Bird and Singisetti.
Modern electronic devices record and read data via negative and
positive electrical charges that are represented, in circuits, as
ones or zeros. Processing information requires moving electrons,
which consumes energy and produces heat.
Electrons have another property that responds to magnetic
fields. This property, known as spin, creates a tiny magnetic
field. The spin is characterized by an “up” or
“down” direction which, like the electrical charges,
can be used to encode data. This is the basis of spintronics.
Magnetoelectric devices use the spin property of electrons;
however, researchers are going a step further by manipulating the
spin with materials such as chromium oxide. They then apply an
electric field that changes the spin state without moving
electrons, thus reducing the energy of the operation.
Unlike magnetoelectric devices, ferroelectric devices do not use
spin or magnetism. Instead, they are created by applying an
electric field that reverses their naturally-occurring charge. The
process is similar to how common magnets, like those used on
Both types of devices are advantageous, Bird and Singisetti
said, because neither device requires the movement of electrons nor
will data disappear when there is no power applied. In theory, each
could lead to faster and more powerful computing while consuming
“Just as vacuum tubes led to transistors, transistors may
give way to magnetoelectric and ferroelectric devices creating a
whole new class of computers and other devices capable of executing
tasks that we can only dream about today. The implications are
huge,” Singisetti said.
Making advancements in the field is a priority of big businesses
like GlobalFoundries, IBM, Intel, Micron Technology and Texas
Instruments - all of which support a public-private partnership
called the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI).
The NRI was created by the university-research consortium
Semiconductor Research Corp. and the National Institute of
Standards and Technology, an agency of the U.S. Department of
Commerce that promotes innovation and industrial
The NRI will spend more than $23 million over nearly five years
at three multi-university research centers including the CFND. The
two other multi-university research centers are based at the
University at Albany and The University of Texas at Austin.
In addition to UB and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, there
are four other universities working with the CFND on this project.
They are: the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Oakland University,
the University of California-Irvine and the University of
Bird and Singisetti will be fabricating nanosized devices in the
Davis Hall clean room and testing their electrical characteristics.
They intend to work with UB’s Center of Excellence in
Materials Informatics, which was established in 2012 with funding
from New York State.
In addition to supporting their research, the $850,000 will fund
two PhD students each year.
Bird and Singisetti are members of the UB Department of
Electrical Engineering’s Solid State Electronics Research
Group, which conducts research in nanoelectronics, nanomaterials
and characterization, terahertz technology, microelectronic and
optoelectronic devices and materials, carbon nanotubes, plasma
dynamics, transport and device physics in semiconductor
heterostructures, magnetism, very-large-scale integration (VLSI)
and field-programmable gate array (FPGA) circuits, and
Other members of the group include Liesl Folks, dean of the UB
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; professors Ping-Chin
Cheng, Vladimir Mitin, David Shaw, Chu Ryang Wie; associate
professor Kwang Oh; and assistant professor Cristinel Ababei.