A team of international scientists have found a way to make memory chips perform computing tasks, which is traditionally done by computer processors like those made by Intel and Qualcomm.
This means data could now be processed in the same spot where it is stored, leading to much faster and thinner mobile devices and computers.
This new computing circuit was developed by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) in collaboration with Germany’s RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Juelich, one of the largest interdisciplinary research centres in Europe.
It is built using state-of-the-art memory chips known as Redox-based resistive switching random access memory (ReRAM). Developed by global chipmakers such as SanDisk and Panasonic, this type of chip is one of the fastest memory modules that will soon be available commercially.
However, instead of storing information, NTU Assistant Professor Anupam Chattopadhyay in collaboration with Professor Rainer Waser from RWTH Aachen University and Dr Vikas Rana from Forschungszentrum Juelich showed how ReRAM can also be used to process data.
This discovery was published recently in Scientific Reports, a peer-reviewed journal under the prestigious Nature Publishing Group.
Current devices and computers have to transfer data from the memory storage to the processor unit for computation, while the new NTU circuit saves time and energy by eliminating these data transfers.
It can also boost the speed of current processors found in laptops and mobile devices by at least two times or more.
By making the memory chip perform computing tasks, space can be saved by eliminating the processor, leading to thinner, smaller and lighter electronics. The discovery could also lead to new design possibilities for consumer electronics and wearable technology.
How the new circuit works
Currently, all computer processors in the market are using the binary system, which is composed of two states – either 0 or 1. For example, the letter A will be processed and stored as 01000001, an 8-bit character.
However, the prototype ReRAM circuit built by Asst Prof Chattopadhyay and his collaborators processes data in four states instead of two. For example, it can store and process data as 0, 1, 2, or 3, known as Ternary number system.
Because ReRAM uses different electrical resistance to store information, it could be possible to store the data in an even higher number of states, hence speeding up computing tasks beyond current limitations.
Asst Prof Chattopadhyay who is from NTU’s School of Computer Science and Engineering, said in current computer systems, all information has to be translated into a string of zeros and ones before it can be processed.
“This is like having a long conversation with someone through a tiny translator, which is a time-consuming and effort-intensive process,” he explained. “We are now able to increase the capacity of the translator, so it can process data more efficiently.”
The quest for faster processing is one of the most pressing needs for industries worldwide, as computer software is getting increasingly complex while data centres have to deal with more information than ever.
The researchers said that using ReRAM for computing will be more cost-effective than other computing technologies on the horizon, since ReRAMs will be available in the market soon.
Prof Waser said, “ReRAM is a versatile non-volatile memory concept. These devices are energy-efficient, fast, and they can be scaled to very small dimensions. Using them not only for data storage but also for computation could open a completely new route towards an effective use of energy in the information technology.”
The excellent properties of ReRAM like its long-term storage capacity, low energy usage and ability to be produced at the nanoscale level have drawn many semiconductor companies to invest in researching this promising technology.
The research team is now looking to engage industry partners to leverage this important advance of ReRAM-based ternary computing.
Moving forward, the researchers will also work on developing the ReRAM to process more than its current four states, which will lead to great improvements of computing speeds as well as to test its performance in actual computing scenarios.
Its lush 200-hectare Yunnan Garden campus was the Youth Olympic Village of the world’s first 2010 Summer Youth Olympics in 2010.
Ranked 41st globally by QS World University Rankings in 2013, NTU has made a jump of 36 places in the last four years to become the fastest rising university in the QS global top 50. NTU is ranked 2nd in the world among young elite universities, according to QS Top 50 Under 50. NTU is ranked 76th worldwide in 2013 by Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
As of November 2013, Microsoft Academic Search website ranks NTU’s overall engineering, according to the number publications and H-Index criteria, as the world’s 10th since the last 5 years. QS World University Rankings rated NTU’s Engineering and Technology as 14th in the world (3rd in Asia) in 2013 while Times Higher Education World University Rankings place NTU in the 33rd position (7th in Asia) according to its 2013–2014 Engineering and Technology subject ranking. Furthermore, QS World University Rankings 2013 rated NTU’s Social Sciences as 36th worldwide (6th in Asia) and NTU’s Natural Sciences has moved up by 43 positions to 55th position (11th in Asia); Arts & Humanities is ranked 13th position and Life Sciences & Medicine is ranked 25th position in Asia.
According to the 2013 Thomson Reuters report on research citations, NTU has catapulted to 2nd in Asia for research citation impact, second only to University of Tokyo. Times Higher Education ranked NTU 1st in the world for industry income and innovation in 2013.
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) research articles from Innovation Toronto
- A Thermal Invisibility Cloak Actively Redirects Heat – September 27, 2015
- Observing nano-bio interactions in real time – September 20, 2015
- Scientists from NTU Singapore find electrifying solution to sticky problem – August 26, 2015
- Engineered Antibody Neutralizes All Four Dengue Serotypes – July 30, 2015
- NTU scientists discover new treatment for dementia – April 13, 2015
- Optical fibres light the way for brain-like computing – March 12, 2015
- A new weapon in war against flu pandemics and pneumonia – February 15, 2015
- World’s first compact rotary 3D printer-cum-scanner unveiled at AAAS by NTU Singapore start-up – February 15, 2015
- NTU invents smart window that tints and powers itself – December 18, 2014
- Innovative process to print flexible electronic circuits using a t-shirt printer – November 18, 2014
- NTU develops ultra-fast charging batteries that last 20 years – big change coming – October 14, 2014
- Breakthrough in rapid diagnostics: using magnets to test for malaria – September 13, 2014
- Innovative multifunction membranes improve water filtration rate by 10x – September 13, 2014
- Flexible supercapacitor could have big advantages over batteries for wearable devices – May 12, 2014
- NTU scientists discover material that can be solar cell by day, light panel by night
- NTU scientists discover potential vaccine for malaria
- Genetically engineered bacteria can be used to attack other bacterial species
- NTU to trial Singapore’s first driverless vehicle on the roads
- NTU invention transforms plain surfaces into low-cost touch screens
- NTU invention allows clear photos in dim light
- Nanomedicine could outdo surgery
- Compact multipurpose scooter for crowded megacities
- NTU scientist develops a multi-purpose wonder material to tackle environmental challenges
- Revolutionary Laser Cooling System
- NTU’s ‘sense-ational’ invention helps underwater vessels navigate with ease
- Nothing goes to waste when visiting green toilet NTU researchers green loo uses less water, recycles human waste
- Primate study provides positive sign for the safety of nanomedicine
- Revolutionary Chipset for High-Speed Wireless Data Transfer
- Computing experts unveil superefficient ‘inexact’ chip
- Superbug-killing coating “magnetically” draws in bacteria
- Hong Kong University Makes Breakthrough in Gastrointestinal Treatment
With Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones gaining popularity globally for commercial, recreational and industry purposes, hundreds of UAVs may soon be buzzing all over Singapore.
The lower cost of drones and rising demand for commercial drone services have already led to a boom in the number of drones taking to the skies in Singapore.
With Singapore’s limited airspace and dense population, the need for an aerial traffic management system to allow drones to fly safely has become more urgent.
Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) are studying ways to allow hundreds of UAVs to fly efficiently and safely at any one time.
The aim is to develop a traffic management system for UAVs consisting designated air-lanes and blocks, similar to how cars on the roads have traffic lights and lanes.
Advanced technologies that will be developed include smart and safe routing, detect- and-avoid systems, and traffic management to coordinate air traffic.
Named Traffic Management of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, this initiative is spearheaded by NTU’s Air Traffic Management Research Institute (ATMRI).
ATMRI is a joint research centre by NTU and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). It aims to research and develop air traffic management solutions for Singapore and the Asia Pacific region, including UAV traffic management which is one of its key programmes.
Leading the research programme are NTU Professor Low Kin Huat, an expert in robotics and UAVs from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and ATMRI Senior Research Fellow, Mr Mohamed Faisal Bin Mohamed Salleh.
Prof Low said it is important to develop a traffic management solution for UAVs tailored to actual challenges faced by Singapore given the huge growth of UAV traffic expected over the next decade.
“At NTU, we have already demonstrated viable technologies such as UAV convoys, formation flying and logistics, which will soon become mainstream,” explained Prof Low. “This new traffic management project will test some of the new concepts developed with the aim of achieving safe and efficient drone traffic in our urban airways.”
“The implications of the project will have far reaching consequences, as we are developing ways for seamless travel of unmanned aircrafts for different purposes without compromising safety, which is of paramount importance.”
Professor Louis Phee, Chair of NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said the UAV research at NTU is a natural progression, with the school’s deep expertise in autonomous vehicles and robotics developed over the last decade.
“This research will pave the way for appropriate rules and regulations to be implemented amidst the rapid growth of UAVs. The findings can help improve safety and address security concerns, which are especially important given today’s climate of uncertainty.”
Coordinating centres to track airborne drones
To ensure that traffic is regulated across the whole of Singapore, a possible solution is the establishment of coordinating stations for UAV traffic. These stations can then track all the UAVs that are in the air, schedule the traffic flow, monitor their speeds and ensure a safe separation between the UAVs.
Mr Faisal, the co-investigator of the programme, said various scenarios will be tested out using computer simulations and software to optimise UAV traffic routes, so as to minimise traffic congestions.
“We will also look into proposing safety standards, for instance how high UAVs should fly and how far they should be flying above buildings, taking privacy concerns and laws into consideration, and to suggest recommended actions during contingencies,” said Mr Faisal, who is also Deputy Director at ATMRI.
One proposed strategy is to use the current infrastructure such as open fields for take-off and landing and having UAVs fly above buildings and HDB flats, which can act as emergency landing sites to minimise risk to the public.
Currently, restricted airspace and zones where UAV operations are prohibited have already been identified, such as near airports and military facilities.
The researchers will test out several concepts, such as geofencing. The idea is to set up virtual fences where UAVs can be automatically routed around a restricted geographical location such as the airport.
Another important research area will be collision detection. UAVs will need to have sensors that enable detection and avoidance of collision with another UAV. This will allow UAVs to follow a set of actions to avoid any mid-air incidents, such as flying above, below, or around other UAVs.
This multidisciplinary research initiative will bring together faculty and researchers from different fields in NTU, from aerospace engineering and air traffic management to robotics and electronic engineering.
Spanning a period of four years, the project which will also tap on industry experts, is expected to complete its initial phase of conceptual design and software simulation by end 2017.
This is followed by actual test bedding of solutions using UAVs developed by NTU that can be used for relevant applications in 2018.
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has developed a new material that will make vehicles and buildings cooler and quieter compared to current insulation materials in the market.
Known as aerogel composites, this new foam insulates against heat 2.6 times better than conventional insulation foam.
When compared to traditional materials used in soundproofing, it can block out 80 per cent of outside noise, 30 per cent more than the usual ones.
Made from silica aerogels with a few other additives, this new material is now ready for commercialisation and is expected to hit the market early next year. The promising product has the potential to be used in a wide range of applications, including in building and construction, oil and gas and the automotive industry.
The aerogel composites took NTU Assoc Prof Sunil Chandrankant Joshi and his then-PhD student, Dr Mahesh Sachithanadam, four years to develop. The technology had been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and a patent has been filed by NTU’s innovation and enterprise arm NTUitive.
A local company, Bronx Creative & Design Center Pte Ltd (BDC), has licensed this aerogel composites technology with a joint venture of S$7 million (USD$5.2 million), and a production plant that will be operational by 2017.
It will produce the aerogel composites in various forms such as sheets or panels, in line with current industry sizes.
Assoc Prof Sunil said the foam will be easy to install and use as it is thinner than conventional foam yet has better performance.
“Our NTU thin foam is also greener to manufacture, as it does not require high heat treatment or toxic materials in its production. It is therefore a lot more eco-friendly and less hazardous to the environment,” explained Prof Sunil who is from NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Mr Thomas Ng, R&D Director of BDC, said this new material could address a real market need for high-performance heat insulation and better sound proofing.
“With the global industries moving towards green manufacturing and a lowered carbon footprint, the new foam we produce will help address their needs and yet give a better performance,” Mr Ng said.
“Moving forward, we hope to show the current market that going green doesn’t mean that performance has to be compromised. We will be working with industry partners and certified testing labs to achieve the relevant standards and certifications.
“BDC has plans to have a footprint locally as we are now in talks with a few local parties to make this happen, in line with Singapore’s vision of being a global leader in the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering sector,” he added.
BDC has various negotiations underway with other companies to expand the production to India and various Southeast Asia countries within the next three years.
High Performance Foam
The new aerogel composite has been branded “Bronx AeroSil” by BDC and is being developed for various applications by Dr Mahesh, now the Chief Technology Officer at BDC.
For example, to reduce the noise generated by a truck driving by to that of a normal conversation, only 15mm of the new material would be needed. On the other hand, common insulation foam requires a thickness of 25mm.
The aerogel composite can reduce noise by as much as 80 per cent whereas normal foam only reduces sound by 50 per cent, explained Dr Mahesh.
Against heat, Bronx AeroSil which is 50 per cent thinner than conventional foam will still out-perform it by 37 per cent.
“For both heat insulation and sound-proofing, we can now use less material to achieve the same effect, which will also lower the overall material and logistic costs,” Dr Mahesh said.
Apart from being a good thermal and acoustic insulator, it is also non-flammable – a crucial factor for materials used in high heat environments common in the oil and gas industries.
It is also resilient and can withstand high compression or heavy loads. A small 10cm by 10cm piece of the aerogel composite material weighing just 15 grams can take up to 300 kilogrammes of weight, maintaining its shape without being flattened.
In the first quarter of next year, BDC will begin mass producing the aerogel composites for their clients, which include companies from the automotive, electronics, and oil and gas sectors.
Further research and optimisation would be carried out to improve the performance of the aerogel composite material to ensure it maintains its competitiveness edge against other technologies, said Dr Mahesh.
A*STAR scientists have developed a unique fast-pulsing fiber laser that has the widest wavelength output to date1. This type of laser could replace several fixed-wavelength lasers and form the basis of compact devices useful for a range of medical and military applications.
The team developed an all-fiber laser, constructed similarly to a fiber-optic cable. The key component is a glass tube, whose core is doped with atoms that act as a gain medium — a material from which energy is transferred to boost the output power of the laser — through which light particles, or ‘photons’, travel. The doping atoms are selected according to the specific wavelengths of light that they will absorb, store and then release, creating an efficient, controllable output beam.
“To date, most tunable all-fiber pulsed lasers achieve a maximum tuning range of about 50 nanometers,” says Xia Yu from the A*STAR Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, who worked on the project with her team and her collaborator Qijie Wang from Nanyang Technological University. “We have achieved a widely-tunable laser in the mid-infrared wavelength band, with a range of 136 nanometers (from 1,842 to 1,978 nanometers). We used thulium as the doping atom; this generates a laser that operates in the eye-safe range, meaning it could have medical and military applications.”
The researchers combined two techniques to create their laser and ensure the output was tunable. They used nonlinear polarization evolution, a filtering effect that picks out pulses of light at the desired wavelength and channels them into the output beam. This simultaneously ensures that the output can be adjusted to a specific wavelength while generating ultrafast pulsed light. They also used bidirectional pumping — injecting energy into the gain medium from both ends of the fiber — to ensure a high optical power for as wide a range of wavelengths as possible. The gain occurs when thulium ions are excited to higher-energy states; they then release more photons when they return to lower-energy states.
A future of soft robots that wash your dishes or smart T-shirts that power your cell phone may depend on the development of stretchy power sources. But traditional batteries are thick and rigid — not ideal properties for materials that would be used in tiny malleable devices. In a step toward wearable electronics, a team of researchers has produced a stretchy micro-supercapacitor using ribbons of graphene.
The researchers will present their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.
“Most power sources, such as phone batteries, are not stretchable. They are very rigid,” says Xiaodong Chen, Ph.D. “My team has made stretchable electrodes, and we have integrated them into a supercapacitor, which is an energy storage device that powers electronic gadgets.”
Supercapacitors, developed in the 1950s, have a higher power density and longer life cycle than standard capacitors or batteries. And as devices have shrunk, so too have supercapacitors, bringing into the fore a generation of two-dimensional micro-supercapacitors that are integrated into cell phones, computers and other devices. However, these supercapacitors have remained rigid, and are thus a poor fit for soft materials that need to have the ability to elongate.
In this study, Chen of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and his team sought to develop a micro-supercapacitor from graphene. This carbon sheet is renowned for its thinness, strength and conductivity. “Graphene can be flexible and foldable, but it cannot be stretched,” he says. To fix that, Chen’s team took a cue from skin. Skin has a wave-like microstructure, Chen says. “We started to think of how we could make graphene more like a wave.”
The researchers’ first step was to make graphene micro-ribbons. Most graphene is produced with physical methods — like shaving the tip of a pencil — but Chen uses chemistry to build his material. “We have more control over the graphene’s structure and thickness that way,” he explains. “It’s very difficult to control that with the physical approach. Thickness can really affect the conductivity of the electrodes and how much energy the supercapacitor overall can hold.”
The next step was to create the stretchable polymer chip with a series of pyramidal ridges. The researchers placed the graphene ribbons across the ridges, creating the wave-like structure. The design allowed the material to stretch without the graphene electrodes of the superconductor detaching, cracking or deforming. In addition, the team developed kirigami structures, which are variations of origami folds, to make the supercapacitors 500 percent more flexible without decaying their electrochemical performance. As a final test, Chen has powered an LCD from a calculator with the stretchy graphene-based micro-supercapacitor. Similarly, such stretchy supercapacitors can be used in pressure or chemical sensors.
In future experiments, the researchers hope to increase the electrode’s surface area so it can hold even more energy. The current version only stores enough energy to power LCD devices for a minute, he says.
New concrete to reduce time needed for road works by more than half
Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) scientists from the NTU-JTC Industrial Infrastructure Innovation Centre (I³C) have invented a new type of concrete called ConFlexPave that is bendable yet stronger and longer lasting than regular concrete which is heavy, brittle and breaks under tension.
This innovation allows the creation of slim precast pavement slabs for quick installation, thus halving the time needed for road works and new pavements. It is also more sustainable, requiring less maintenance.
NTU Professor Chu Jian, Interim Co-Director of the NTU-JTC I³C, said, “We developed a new type of concrete that can greatly reduce the thickness and weight of precast pavement slabs, hence enabling speedy plug-and-play installation, where new concrete slabs prepared off-site can easily replace worn out ones.”
Mr Koh Chwee, Director, Technical Services Division of JTC and Co-Director of the NTU-JTC I3C, said that the invention of this game-changing technology will not only enable the construction industry to reduce labour intensive on-site work, enhance workers’ safety and reduce construction time, it also benefits road users by cutting down the inconvenience caused by road resurfacing and construction works.
“Through collaborations with universities such as NTU in research and development of disruptive technologies, JTC hopes to pioneer cutting-edge industrial infrastructure solutions to address challenges faced by Singapore and its companies such as manpower and resource constraints. We will continue to open up more of our buildings and estates to test-bed and if successful, implement such new solutions,” Mr Koh added.
How bendable concrete works
Typical concrete comprises cement, water, gravel and sand. While this mixture makes concrete hard and strong, it does not promote flexibility. Thus concrete is brittle and prone to cracks if too much weight is applied.
ConFlexPave is specifically engineered to have certain types of hard materials mixed with polymer microfibres. The inclusion of these special synthetic fibres, besides allowing the concrete to flex and bend under tension, also enhances skid resistance.
The key breakthrough was understanding how the components of the materials interact with one another mechanically on a microscopic level, said Asst Prof Yang En-Hua from NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering who leads this research at the NTU-JTC I³C.
“With detailed understanding, we can then deliberately select ingredients and engineer the tailoring of components, so our final material can fulfill specific requirements needed for road and pavement applications,” explained Prof Yang.
“The hard materials give a non-slip surface texture while the microfibres which are thinner than the width of a human hair, distribute the load across the whole slab, resulting in a concrete that is tough as metal and at least twice as strong as conventional concrete under bending,” he added.
Mini midbrains provide next generation platforms to investigate human brain biology, diseases and therapeutics
Scientists in Singapore have made a big leap on research on the ‘mini-brain’. These advanced mini versions of the human midbrain will help researchers develop treatments and conduct other studies into Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and ageing-related brain diseases.
These mini midbrain versions are three-dimensional miniature tissues that are grown in the laboratory and they have certain properties of specific parts of the human brains. This is the first time that the black pigment neuromelanin has been detected in an organoid model. The study also revealed functionally active dopaminergic neurons.
The human midbrain, which is the information superhighway, controls auditory, eye movements, vision and body movements. It contains special dopaminergic neurons that produce dopamine – which carries out significant roles in executive functions, motor control, motivation, reinforcement, and reward. High levels of dopamine elevate motor activity and impulsive behaviour, whereas low levels of dopamine lead to slowed reactions and disorders like PD, which is characterised by stiffness and difficulties in initiating movements.
A material whose optical properties can be modified on a small scale by laser light promises a wide range of applications
Properties of small areas of a versatile optical film can be tweaked by applying ultrashort pulses of laser light, A*STAR researchers show1. This tunability makes the material suitable for various light-based applications, from lenses to holograms.
When the shutter button on a camera is depressed, it focuses by electrically adjusting the positions of the constituent parts of the lens. Similarly, the parameters of optical components in many devices and scientific instruments are adjusted by moving their parts, or by stretching or heating them. Being able to use light to adjust optical components would offer many advantages, including fast response and easy integration into small and robust systems.
Now, such an optically adjustable system has been developed by Qian Wang of the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering and co-workers, along with collaborators at the University of Southampton, UK, and the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
The team studied a material widely used in CD and DVD disks — chalcogenide glass. In rewritable CD and DVD data-storage devices, microsecond or nanosecond (10−9 second) laser pulses are used to switch the medium between two states — crystalline and disordered. In contrast, Wang and her team used a tightly controlled series of much shorter femtosecond (10−15second) optical pulses to set the glass into incremental states between completely crystalline and completely disordered. By scanning the focused laser beam across the glass film, they could modify regions as small as about 0.6 micrometers (see image).
A finding by a University of Central Florida researcher that unlocks a means of controlling materials at the nanoscale and opens the door to a new generation of manufacturing is featured online today in the journal Nature.
Using a pair of pliers in each hand and gradually pulling taut a piece of glass fiber coated in plastic, associate professor Ayman Abouraddy found that something unexpected and never before documented occurred – the inner fiber fragmented in an orderly fashion.
“What we expected to see happen is NOT what happened,” he said. “While we thought the core material would snap into two large pieces, instead it broke into many equal-sized pieces.”
He referred to the technique in the Nature article as “Breaking Me Softly.”
The process of pulling fibers to force the realignment of the molecules that hold them together, known as cold drawing, has been the standard for mass production of flexible fibers like plastic and nylon for most of the last century.
Abouraddy and his team have shown that the process may also be applicable to multi-layered materials, a finding that could lead to the manufacturing of a new generation of materials with futuristic attributes.
A new glue that forms a strong bond when activated by low voltage electricity may be the first of its kind.
Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore believe the adhesive may be a game-changer in manufacturing fields as diverse as biological implants and automobiles.
The new adhesive is a liquid gel that “cures” to form a polymer bond when a voltage of less than two volts is passed through it. Curing is the amount of time it takes for a glue to reach full strength after it dries. The glue stops curing as soon as the current is turned off. Users can fine-tune the bond’s strength and flexibility by varying the current’s voltage and duration.
The bonding agent is a light, low-viscosity flowing liquid that allows users to coat and exactly position the materials to be joined. Applying voltage to the gel then rapidly cures it to a strong bond with high elasticity and high shear strength.