A new world of computer processing
Over the past several decades, computer processing power has increased by leaps and bounds. This rate of change has largely correlated with our ability to produce smaller and smaller transistors, allowing us to process more information using less power. Unfortunately, we’re closing in on the lower limit. Soon it won’t just be difficult to develop smaller silicon-based transistors, it will actually be impossible according to the laws of physics.
At the same time, new discoveries related to quantum materials are opening the door to entirely different computing methods. Drawing on their combined expertise in physics, electronics, and engineering, MIT professors Dirk Englund, Leonid Levitov, and Nuno Loureiro aim to define a new world of computer processing—a quantum fluid-based approach that leaves existing transistors in its wake. “A lot of incremental paths have been explored,” says Dr. Englund. “New concepts are needed beyond the traditional computer architecture.”
Graphene—a thin sheet of carbon that’s just one atom thick—has shown particular promise as the foundation for novel electronics. Electrons flow through graphene like a liquid and display robust quantum mechanical behaviors at room temperature. These unique features could allow us to create devices that use electron fluids rather than transistors to perform calculations—unlocking a new world of computer processing.
Does not (yet) compute
The team’s plan is ambitious, high-risk, intensely multidisciplinary, and far from the bounds of conventional electronic engineering. Their work lies at the intersection of condensed matter physics, plasma physics, and electronics: a new research area with no obvious funding source.
For all involved, the project represents a chance to think outside the box—and outside their comfort zone. According to Dr. Englund, “This program brings together our complementary expertise to tackle a problem that none of us could individually address.” Working together, they hope to drive a new paradigm for computing, but also to grow their own understanding and scientific practice. Dr. Louriero further explains, “There are methods and ideas that can be ported from one system to the other. I’m going to learn a lot. I hope those ideas will then inspire other opportunities in my domain.”
To a theorist, this is all particularly appealing, as it provides a unique perspective on the developments in my field by connecting it to other fields and, of course, because of a possibly far-reaching outcome this collaboration can lead to.”
Over the course of the project, the team will help determine whether electron fluids represent a viable—or even superior—alternative to transistors. Since this is an early-stage technology, they’ll build new tools and understanding that will allow the field to grow in the future. To that end, the investigators also plan to share their knowledge through training, seminars, and industry partnerships.
Demonstrating the potential of this technology would create new markets for investment. Laying the groundwork for next-gen computing could revolutionize the world of electronics—from smaller, faster, more efficient devices to dramatically improved artificial intelligence.