(April 3, 2019) -- Building on the Air Force’s need to develop tech devices that require minimal charging in the field, the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is using principles in quantum science and engineering to build a graphene-based logic device. This new technology will improve the energy efficiency of battery-dependent devices from cell phones to computers.
“We are developing devices that can operate almost battery-less,” said Ethan Ahn, UTSA assistant professor in electrical engineering.
UTSA engineers are using spintronics, the study of an electron’s intrinsic quantum mechanical property called spin, to allow low-power operation with a possible application in quantum computing.
“An electron is a little, but very strong magnet,” said Ahn. “Just imagine that an electron spins on its own axis, either up or down.”
Traditional tech devices use the electronic charge of electrons for power. In spintronics, researchers are tapping the inherent spin of electrons as a new power source. With this new approach, devices will require fewer electrons to operate.
There are hurdles, however, in harnessing the power of spin. In quantum computing that harnesses spin of electrons to transmit information, the challenge for researchers is how to capture spin as efficiently as possible.
“If you have 100 electrons injected to the channel to power the next logic circuit, you may only get to use one or two spins because the injection efficiency is very low. This is 98 percent spin lost,” said Ahn.
To prevent the loss of spin, Ahn has developed the new idea of the “zero-power carbon interconnect” by using nanomaterials as both the spin transport channel and the tunnel barrier. These nanomaterials are like a sheet of paper, a two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms just a few nanometers in thickness, and it’s the point of contact where spin injection is inputted into the device. Ahn’s prototype is an interconnect built with a reduced graphene oxide layer.
“It’s novel because we are using graphene, a nanomaterial, to enhance spin injection. By controlling the amount of oxide on the graphene layers, we can fine tune electrons’ conductivity,” said Ahn.
Graphene has widespread appeal because it’s the world's strongest nanomaterial. In fact, the room temperature conductivity of graphene is higher than that of any other known material.
If successful, the zero-power carbon interconnect that Ahn is creating with his collaborators at UT-Austin and Michigan State University would be integrated into the logic component of a computer chip.
The device, once developed, will be submitted to the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which is supporting UTSA’s work with a three-year grant.
“The military needs smaller devices that can operate in remote fields without need to recharge batteries,” said Ahn. “If our zero-power carbon interconnect is successful, it will improve the efficiency of graphene spintronics — a crucial step in advancing the next generation of low-power electronics like quantum computing.”
This interconnect could also be highly beneficial to the cloud computing industry. According to the Data Knowledge Center, on-demand cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services alone consume about two percent of the nation’s energy. If the zero-power carbon interconnect is successful, cloud servers such as those that offer streaming services like Netflix or host data, could operate faster and with less electricity.
Learn more about the UTSA Nano Lab.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Celebrate UTSA’s 50th Anniversary and share social media posts about the 50th using the hashtag #UTSA50.
The Roadrunner community and nearby residents are highly encouraged to cast their votes at UTSA, a designated early voting site for the March 3 Texas presidential primary election.H-E-B Student Union, Bexar Room (HSU 1.102), Main Campus
The best way to learn what UTSA has to offer is to experience it for yourself. Come to our Open House and see all that UTSA has to offer. The day features admissions and financial aid workshops and presentations, campus tours and much more.Various Locations, Main Campus
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in health care, you won’t want to miss UTSA’s 14th annual Health Professions Day. Meet with representatives of health professions programs at schools such as Texas Tech University Health Science Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, University North Texas Health Science Center, University of the Incarnate Word, and many more. Free and open to UTSA students, local area college and high school students, and community members.Student Union, Retama Galleria (SU First Floor Corridor), Main Campus
An FBI subject matter expert will discuss the threat to U.S. technology and public sector from foreign adversaries, specific technologies sought and vectors used to illicitly obtain them, how to best safeguard intellectual property.Durango Building (DB 2.112A), Downtown Campus
Why just leap when you can dash? The Alumni Association’s 36th annual Diploma Dash 5K and City Championship is a great opportunity to run or walk for a great cause: scholarships for UTSA students.Main Campus
Students are encouraged to attend to obtain important information about Spring Commencement and life after UTSA. Graduating students can order their cap and gown and other items, win prizes and capture lasting memories with fellow Roadrunners at a selfie station. Participants should take a UTSA student ID for entry.H-E-B Student Union, Ballrooms (HSU 1.104/1.106), Main Campus
UTSA’s first Wellbeing Fair is a part of the President’s Initiative of Enriching Campus Wellbeing. UTSA is committed to the well-being of each member of the campus community and recognizes that numerous factors contribute to overall wellness: physical and mental health, diet and nutrition, physical activity, stress management and self-care, social behaviors and more. The fair will give students, faculty and staff an opportunity to participate in well-being activities, obtain well-being information and learn about available services. Participants will become more competent in making healthy decisions to take a more proactive approach in their own well-being.Paseo Principal, Student Union, Main Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.