July 22, 2014
Chris Dwyer, an associate professor in electrical and computer engineering, has been named one of ten new National Security Science and Engineering Fellows by the U.S. Department of Defense. The fellowship will award up to $3 million in research support for up to five years.
The field of computer engineering has long been dominated by top-down manufacturing processes where semiconductors—most notably silicon—are deposited and etched away into the patterns needed for logic gates and circuits. These processes, however, are nearing the end of their ability to be improved on; transistors can’t get much smaller due to physical limits and performance is stalling as well.
Some companies are looking to replace silicon with better semiconductors, which would bump up performance in the short term. The future of building computers, however, lies with a bottom-up approach.
Dwyer’s research team is using synthetic DNA to fold complex nanostructures to use as scaffolding for chemical patterns they want to create. This approach allows them to assemble vast quantities simultaneously—a must for any technology to eventually become commercially viable. By creating patterns of fluorescent molecules on this self-assembled scaffolding, Dwyer hopes to control the flow of energy and create the structures needed for computing processes.
“We’re trying to make better computer hardware at the molecular scale and embed logic circuits into systems the size of a virus,” said Dwyer. “The applications this could be used for are very open-ended, but I could see it embedded into a drug delivery system or a nanoparticle that monitors its environment for chemical or biological agents.”