Leyla Nazhandali and Masoud Agah, are creating nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) that can reduce power consumption by more than 95 percent in devices with long idle periods. They have received a $425,000 NSF grant to create NEMS switches to reduce power leakage for low power applications.
According to Nazhandali, "power consumption is one of the primary roadblocks to greatly expanding the role of computing in everyday life." She explains that this is important for many applications, including server farms and sensor deployment into areas with little power available — such as bridges, war zones, and inside the human body.
The tiny switches Nazhandali and Agah are developing have low resistance when on and infinite resistance when off, making the power gating more efficient. They will design both the NEMS switch and on-chip control circuitry, "which includes a high voltage generation system and a self-healing controller that can gracefully handle switch failure," says Nazhandali. They are also aware of the difficulty of integrating these switches into current technologies, and are investigating how to best incorporate NEMS switches into industry-standard CMOS process flows.