ECE's Zhihong Chen receives NSF funding for research to advance high-performance probabilistic computing
A Purdue University research initiative primarily designed to advance high-performance probabilistic computing through the development of integral components known as probabilistic bits (p-bits) has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Zhihong Chen, professor in the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Mary Jo and Robert L. Kirk Director of the Birck Nanotechnology Center, is the PI on the project, called “Designing Materials for Next-generation Spintronic Devices.”
The grant is part of the NSF’s Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) program, which supports the design, discovery and development of advanced materials needed to address major societal challenges.
“This grant will provide crucial support for our dynamic team, comprised of four Purdue ECE faculty who will closely collaborate with colleagues from partner universities, IBM and AFRL (Air Force Research Lab),” Chen said. “Our collective mission is to embark on a journey of designing and uncovering groundbreaking spintronic materials, specifically tailored towards the realization of p-bits, the fundamental building blocks of probabilistic computing.”
The underlying goal of the research is to engineer materials with tailored properties conducive to the efficient operation of p-bits, with particular emphasis on exploiting the diverse attributes offered by Heusler alloys. These intermetallic compounds offer a versatile platform for tailoring magnetic properties through alloy composition and band structure engineering. Key properties of Heusler alloys — including low magnetization, half-metallicity, minimal magneto-crystalline anisotropy and exchange field-enhanced spin dynamics — make them particularly attractive for realizing high-frequency fluctuations essential for probabilistic computing. Leveraging those properties, the research aims to demonstrate p-bits with characteristic fluctuation frequencies reaching into the tens of gigahertz, all while being controlled by highly efficient spin-orbit torque materials.
The transformative potential of this research lies in enabling compact and energy-efficient hardware for probabilistic computing. This advancement has far-reaching implications, benefiting not only the semiconductor industry but also expanding the material base for spintronic memory technologies with relevance to various industries. The dissemination of research findings will be facilitated through the nanoHUB spintronics portal, and educational efforts will include offering courses and enhancing student training and workforce development through a planned summer school program.
“We are excited that together with the recently funded MURI OptNet project under the leadership of Professor Supriyo Datta, and the previously funded NSF FET grant on probabilistic computing led by Professor Joerg Appenzeller, Purdue is taking a pioneering role in advancing the development of essential components for the innovative field of probabilistic computing,” Chen said. “These initiatives mark significant steps towards reshaping the landscape of computation and promises exciting possibilities for the future.”
Co-PIs on the project are Pramey Upadhyaya, assistant professor in the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Datta, the Thomas Duncan Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Appenzeller, the Barry M. and Patricia L. Epstein Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Kirill Belashchenko, professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Ilya Krivorotov, professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine; Weigang Wang, associate professor of Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Arizona; and Jonathan Sun, research scientist from IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, in collaboration with Nicholas Glavin, senior materials engineer at AFRL.