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Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science

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Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science (Center for E3S)  (University of California-Berkeley)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The transistor has been the fundamental building block of electronics since the 1940s. It is, essentially, a switch activated by as little as one volt of electricity that powers virtually all electronic systems, especially today’s popular modern digital information technology devices.

Yet, transistors use vastly more voltage than necessary, wasting an extraordinary amount of energy. This trend is pushing technology to its limits, and will almost certainly prompt a slowdown in the pace of information services that we have come to expect--and demand.

Unless, of course, scientists find a way to develop a more efficient switch that can replace the transistor. The switch would have to function as well or better than the transistor, but at a fraction of the voltage. This is what researchers are trying to do at the University of California Berkeley-based Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science.

If they are successful, the payoff in energy savings could be enormous, says center director Eli Yablonovitch. “The electricity that is used is proportional to the voltage squared, so if you reduce the voltage by 1,000, you actually reduce the energy consumed by 1000-squared--or a million. We are aiming to reduce power consumption by 1 million.”

Center scientists are studying four types of designs that someday could make today’s transistors obsolete. These include a new kind of semi-conductor that resembles a transistor, but can be activated with less voltage; a nano-mechanical switch, which works like a light switch but is very tiny, and could be activated with fewer than 10 millivolts; optical signaling with tiny light pulses; and a magnetic switch that can be activated by minimal current.

 Several large electronics companies are collaborating with the center. “The big electronics companies are behind us, and want to see this happen,” says Yablonovitch. “They are very interested in reducing the power consumption in information technology.”

In 2011, Yablonovitch said that development of a new switch would be well underway within 10 years, possibly even in early use by then. “I’m confident we’ll get it, if not by myself or my team, we hope that scientists all over the world will follow our lead,” he says. “It’s so important, that ultimately we will find a way to make information technology more energy efficient.”

Education & Outreach

The center seeks to inspire and train a diverse generation of scientists, engineer and technicians that applies this new science and technology to benefit society. Its partners include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Contra Costa College, Los Angeles Trade Technical College and Tuskegee University. As part of the project, the center offers science and engineering programs to community colleges and high schools that serve minorities, giving students “real research experience to motivate them to excel in science and engineering,” Yablonovitch says.

 

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