Physics Faculty Receives $231,344 in Funding from National Science Foundation

Zak Robinson working with a student on research at a computer
Zachary Robinson’s funding will support student-led research in the Surface Science lab. The project is focused on developing “neuromorphic” materials for next-generation electronics.

The funding will support student-led research in Zachary Robinson’s Surface Science Lab. The project is focused on developing so-called “neuromorphic” materials for next-generation electronics. The materials mimic the biological function of nerve cells and could lead to more powerful and energy-efficient devices.

The rapid and seemingly relentless improvement in electronic circuitry over the last seven decades has been driven in large part by miniaturization of the electronic components. However, adverse quantum effects at extremely small length scales present an impending limit to shrinking of these circuits, and many researchers have looked to biological systems for inspiration for further improvement. Neuromorphic, or brain-inspired, computing has the potential to enhance performance and computational speed while reducing power consumption by mimicking the biological function of neurons. The research team from the undergraduate-only physics departments at SUNY Brockport and Ithaca College, along with collaborators from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, are studying thin films of niobium oxide for use in neuromorphic circuits. Thin-film niobium oxide is an ideal candidate for neuromorphic circuits, as it is plentiful, inexpensive, non-toxic, and can mimic both the brain’s neuronal and synaptic behaviors. This project focuses on the growth of the thin films, incorporation of other elements (such as zinc and aluminum) in the films, post-growth thermal annealing, and fabrication into electronic circuit components.

The research team is focusing their effort on correlating the various material changes (e.g., oxide composition, thickness, growth parameters) with the device’s resulting electronic behavior. Ultimately, the project’s goal is to develop niobium oxide-based electronic components that can seamlessly integrate with the current state-of-the-art silicon-based electronics. Undergraduate students are integral members of the research team, and participation in this research is often attractive to members of groups underrepresented in physics. Undergraduate student members of the research team participate in all aspects of the research project during both the summer and during the academic year, and present their work at regional and national conferences.

The award will be administered by The Research Foundation for SUNY at SUNY Brockport.

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Posted: March 05, 2021