For years now, we are in pursuit of building a computing machine as powerful as the human brain. We have come very far in this effort, but there is still a lot to go. Computer Processors have depended on Silicon for a long time now. Starting from computers the size of a room, we can now fit them in our small watches. The recent processor technologies have now gone as low as 7nm chips, but there is a limit to what we can establish with Silicon.
The researchers have long been in search of a substitute. Chinedu E. Ekuma, Assistant Professor in Lehigh University’s Department of Physics, is one such individual. His lab aims to gain an understanding of the physical properties of materials, develops models at the interface of computation, theory, and experiment. Ekuma says that “The most powerful and advanced computing is still primitive compared to the power of the human brain.”
One of the fundamental pursuits of the lab is Two Dimensional Materials. These nanomaterials are of crystalline nature and consist of only a single layer of atoms. These materials offer specific properties well suited for the coming generation of electronics powered by Artificial Intelligence. These AI-powered devices are also called neuromorphic devices.
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The main goal to achieve brain-like computing power is to mimic how the brain handles information. We need to match the human brain’s flexibility and the ability to learn from irregular inputs. We need to match the energy efficiency that the mind possesses. The early research on neuromorphic computing relied on conventional computing materials like Silicon. Consequently, because of the material, they had limited success.
The New Material:
Ekuma believes that “Neuromorphic materials have a combination of computing memory capabilities and energy efficiency for brain-like applications.” As a result, Ekuma and his fellow researchers at the Sensor and Electrons Devices Directorate at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory have now developed a new neuromorphic material. The elaborate process uses metallocene intercalation in hafnium disulfide (HfS2).
Their work will first demonstrate the feasibility of using a design method that imploys 2D materials with an organic molecule. The scientific journal Materials Today published their work in an article titled “Dynamically reconfigurable electronic and phononic properties in intercalated HfS2”. Shedding light on this discovery, Ekuma said that.
“We knew that tow-dimensional materials showed novel properties, but we did not expect such high tunability of the HfS2-based system. The strategy was a concerted effort and synergy between experiment and computation. It started with an afternoon coffee chat where my colleagues and I discussed exploring the possibility of introducing organic molecules into a gap, known as van der Waals gap, in 2D materials.
This was followed by the material design and rigorous computations to test the feasibility. Based on the encouraging computational data, we proceeded to make the sample, characterize the properties, and then made a prototype device with the designed material.”
This discovery shows us that the computing dream of a human clone is not that far away. In addition to new hardware materials, we now have a lot of software development in the field as well. The research will continue on the study on this new type of material. Surprisingly in a few years, we might see some new chips from companies like Intel and AMD based on these non-conventional materials.