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Apr

Apr
30
2021

Swanson School Space Computing Team Heads to Houston

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

"If I told my 10-year-old self I was going to work with NASA one day, I wouldn’t believe it,” said Seth Roffe, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at the University of Pittsburgh. “Any kid who is interested in space dreams of that opportunity.” That dream became a reality for Roffe, his fellow students and their faculty leads, who recently delivered their newest space system to NASA for launch at the NASA Kennedy Space Center on SpaceX-24 this fall. The system of innovative new computers and sensors, uniquely designed for space and dubbed the Configurable and Autonomous Sensor Processing Research or CASPR system, is part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program (STP), which provides an opportunity to perform cutting-edge technology research on the International Space Station (ISS). Both SHREC and the CASPR mission are led by Dr. Alan George, Mickle Chair Professor and Department Chair of ECE. The students and faculty are members of the NSF Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC) headquartered at Pitt. SHREC is a national research center sponsored by the National Science Foundation and dedicated to assisting U.S. industrial partners, government agencies, and research organizations in mission-critical computing. Both SHREC and the CASPR mission are led by Dr. Alan George, Mickle Chair Professor and Department Chair of ECE. “SHREC provides Pitt students with the unique opportunity to work with dozens of leading space agencies and companies while earning their engineering degrees,” said Dr. George. “CASPR is the third space system and mission led and developed by SHREC students and faculty, and it represents one of the most advanced space systems ever developed by students and faculty at any university.” Observing Earth from Afar As part of their recent delivery to NASA, the SHREC team added two new types of space sensors that will be used to get a better view of Earth and its surroundings. The sensors include a high-resolution binocular telescopic imager, developed by SHREC collaborator Satlantis, and a neuromorphic event-based camera, developed by Prophesee and created by Dr. Ryad Benosman, professor of ophthalmology and ECE at Pitt. “This binocular telescope will point to Earth, and its ground-resolved distance (GRD) will enable us to see things like cars, roads, or trees from the ISS,” said Roffe, who is project manager of STP-H7-CASPR. “There are other telescopes with this level of GRD, but this one is small – roughly the size of a toaster oven.” With this hardware and an algorithm from Satlantis, they hope to get more detailed images of Earth’s coastlines and other areas of interest for researchers. Unlike the binocular telescope, the neuromorphic sensor will face the horizon, in the direction that the ISS is moving. The device emulates the human retina and will be used to track fast-moving objects in space and improve situational awareness. “When you take a photo with a normal camera, you take a frame, capturing everything in a field of view,” Roffe explained. “This camera is special because it only captures events by looking for changing light intensity in each pixel, which makes it really good at tracking motion.” Let’s say that you used this technology to take a picture of someone walking. The resulting image would only reveal the person in motion, omitting the static background. This device could ultimately help mitigate collisions or assist in docking to the ISS. Leveling Up Computing Power CASPR, SHREC’s third space system, features two new SSP space computers, two new space sensors, and a GPU. Credit: Theodore Schwarz. Performing research on the ISS requires small yet robust tools that are equipped to handle space’s harsh environment. In addition to new sensors, the CASPR system also includes a pair of new high-performance computers for space, each known as a SHREC Space Processor (SSP), which is built to withstand these challenging conditions and perform better than its predecessors from SHREC. “With SSP, the SHREC team has created one of the most innovative, powerful, dependable, and adaptable types of space computers in the world, and our space computers have been adopted by groups across the country for a growing list of recent and upcoming space missions,” said Dr. George.  “The SSP features a unique mix of fixed and reconfigurable electronics, as well as a hybrid combination of commercial and radiation-hardened technologies, resulting in a system that is very powerful, versatile, and resilient and yet very small in size, weight, power, and cost.” The computing system will also test a commercial GPU, or graphics processing unit, to evaluate how it performs in space. GPUs are more powerful than their CPU counterparts for some applications, which for example would allow modern satellites to perform machine learning or improve graphics rendering in space. “This project is really cool because GPUs haven’t flown very often, so it is really leading edge, and our team is doing great work adding resilience to machine learning,” Roffe added. “The area of a GPU that is vulnerable to radiation is much larger than that of a CPU, so we’re excited to see what happens.” A Space for Students to Shine SHREC gives students in the Swanson School of Engineering a unique opportunity to interact with experts at NASA or the Department of Defense and see their work take flight. In May 2019, a collaborative effort sent the Spacecraft Supercomputing for Image and Video Processing (SSIVP) computer cluster to the ISS on the STP-H6 mission. Like CASPR, this project involved faculty and students from the Swanson School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Sciences.  In the latter department, the faculty lead for CASPR is Dr. Matthew Barry, an expert in thermal and mechanical issues for space systems. In addition to Roffe, the project leads for the CASPR system include the following graduate students: Noah Perryman, electronics lead, who designed and built all of the electronics; Theodore Schwarz, mechanical lead, who designed and built the structure; Antony Gillette, software lead, who wrote most of the flight software that will control everything in flight; Evan Gretok, operations lead and expert on commanding the system after launch, as well as applications to run in flight; Tyler Garrett, GPU lead, who was responsible for software and hardware development related to the GPU; Sebastian Sabogal, FPGA lead, who designed and wrote all of the firmware that works alongside the software; and Thomas Cook, power lead, who designed the system that distributes electric power to everything in CASPR.

Apr
20
2021

University of Pittsburgh Collaboration Supports Energy Innovation at NETL for More Than a Decade

Electrical & Computer

NETL News Release - Reposted with permission. PITTSBURGH (April 20, 2021) ... NETL amplifies the impacts of its nationally recognized technical competencies through collaboration with a variety of organizations, including university partnerships crucial to early-stage development of energy technologies that will lead the nation to a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050. One prime example of these valuable partnership efforts is the work of an ongoing collaborative research team comprising NETL and University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) researchers who have developed and commercialized sensor technologies, won multiple Carnegie Science Awards, produced more than a dozen patents and pending patents, advanced the understanding of energy production through high-impact research papers, and most recently, applied a first-of-its-kind distributive sensing method to solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) — a promising clean energy technology. For the most recent accomplishment, which was aimed at improving the durability of SOFCs, Professor Kevin Chen, Ph.D., led the Pitt researchers, who leveraged the extensive research laboratories of the University’s Swanson School of Engineering, to fabricate and functionalize the distributed sensors that were then tested and characterized by NETL researchers in their own cutting-edge facilities. “NETL has been collaborating with Dr. Chen’s group on a variety of sensor projects since approximately 2008,” said Michael Buric, Ph.D., who leads current NETL work on the team. “At that time, we were working to construct the world’s fastest Raman gas analyzer using novel hollow waveguide technology. After patenting and licensing the Gas Analyzer technology, we focused on optical fiber sensors that enable distributed sensing capabilities, which means they have the ability to sense parameters of interest all along the optical sensing fiber.” The NETL-Pitt team continued developing the distributed sensing technology, applying their novel sensing methods to a range of measurement and monitoring applications across the energy infrastructure spectrum to enable new capabilities in operational efficiency, reliability and safety. The team found that optical fibers are capable of performing at high temperatures, in erosive or corrosive environments, and in highly oxidizing or reducing conditions. This led to the discovery of a fiber optic sensor capable of measuring the temperature and gas concentration distribution inside an operating planar SOFC. “This was a truly collaborative effort, as we used a unique laser fabrication capability to create the high-temperature stable and hydrogen-resistant distributed fiber sensors at Pitt,” Chen said. “And this work wouldn’t have been possible without NETL’s extensive sensor development and testing facility, fuel cell testing facility and modeling capability.” After the success of the SOFC distributed sensor work, the team is looking to the future to develop even more robust sensors capable of operating in even more extreme conditions, which will lead to greater power generation efficiencies. Furthermore, the team is working to apply this sensor technology to support efforts that address climate change. Chen explained that the team envisions using their unique sensor capability to harness valuable data with high temporal and spatial resolution to develop better engines, turbines, battery systems and solar thermal systems. “We are extremely grateful for NETL’s incredibly open attitude toward university collaborations,” Chen said. “Our graduate students and faculty are able to tap into NETL’s wide range of research expertise, which has resulted in not only world-class university research, but also highly trained personnel. NETL’s materials, sensor and modeling expertise supports innovation across so many fields, and previous collaborative work with the Lab has helped to produce energy experts that are now advancing the fields of SOFCS, combustion, rare earth elements, renewable energy and many others. For us, since the Lab is just down the road in South Park Township, NETL is a true national treasure right in our neighborhood.” The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide clean energy while safeguarding the environment. NETL’s work supports DOE’s mission to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy and environmental challenges through transformative science and technology solutions. ###

Mar

Mar
30
2021

Research on New Magnetic Materials Gets AMPED Up

Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (March 30, 2021) — As society continues to grapple with the realities of climate change, it looks toward electric vehicles and renewable energy as technological solutions. With these growing technologies, however, there is a greater need for improved soft magnetic materials that can operate in these systems. Meeting this need requires an interdisciplinary skillset, including materials science, applied physics, and electrical engineering, as well as collaboration with end-users in industry. A new consortium created to address this gap, focused on the research and development of magnetic materials for power electronics systems, has received $60,000 in funding from a University of Pittsburgh Momentum Funds Teaming Grant. The consortium, Advanced Magnetics for Power and Energy Development (AMPED), will include members from several schools at Pitt, as well as North Carolina State University and Carnegie Mellon University. “There’s been a historical gap in research and development funding to support these quickly emerging areas, both with new and established industries in the electric power sector,” said Brandon Grainger, Eaton Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Our hope is that with this funding, we can invest in the relationships and innovation spaces needed to fill that gap.” Grainger, who is also associate director of the Energy GRID Institute and co-director of AMPED, is leading the effort to establish AMPED at the University of Pittsburgh with Paul Ohodnicki, associate professor of mechanical engineering and material science and director of AMPED. Faculty leadership of the consortium also includes Director Michael McHenry and Co-Director Maarten DeBoer from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as Director Subhashish Bhattacharya and Co-Director Richard Beddingfield from North Carolina State University. At Pitt, Grainger and Ohodnicki are joined by Rabikar Chatterjee from the Katz Graduate School of Business and Daniel Mosse from the School of Computing and Information. Chatterjee will bring to the consortium his experience and research in technology-to-market planning and competitive analyses. “Understanding the potential markets and assessing their needs warrants a business perspective, for which the Katz Graduate School of Business can provide the expertise,” said Chatterjee. “I am personally very excited to be part of the team, given my industry experience and research interests that cover the analysis of business markets and assessing the markets’ response to technology-driven innovation. Energy and sustainability are important priorities at Katz for faculty and graduate students, and this project is right in our sweet spot.” On the technological side, Mosse will help to develop novel algorithms for optimizing magnetics and power electronics technology. "It is exciting to participate in this interdisciplinary team with the promises of developing new technologies that will improve efficiency in electric vehicles, the smart grid, and other devices, all with the goal carbon emissions,” said Mosse. “This is the first step toward developing a large collaborative center where industry, academia, and governmental partners will come together to make great things happen, all in pursuit of a cleaner, more sustainable world." The Teaming Grant is a one-year award to support the formation of multi-disciplinary collaborations at Pitt to successfully pursue large-scale external funding. AMPED will use the funds to establish synergies through facilitated team collaborations, supporting graduate student stipends, and investing in lab space at the Energy GRID Institute at Pitt. The group hopes to attract federal funding to further their research, and welcome corporate partners to the consortium to fuse research with industry needs. “More research into improved magnetic materials is crucial for a sustainable future, and it’s important that we’re working in harmony with people at all stages of the research and development process, from theory to manufacturing. Establishing this consortium within the university system also ensures that we can provide industry with the interdisciplinary, skilled workforce required to support their needs moving into the future,” said Ohodnicki, who is also chief technology officer for the soft magnetics manufacturing startup CorePower Magnetics. “I am thrilled to be working with a team whose skills and expertise have the potential to have an enormous impact on the future of energy.”
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
23
2021

Opening the Door for Women in Engineering at Pitt

All SSoE News, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles

When Emmy Lou Haller decided to study engineering at the beginning of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “It takes a lot of courage to go into a school where the students are all men.” The numbers have improved since Haller earned her degree in industrial engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. Today, first-year female recruitment in the Swanson School of Engineering is nearing 40 percent, and women represent a third of the undergraduate population and more than a quarter of graduate students. That’s an impressive feat for a discipline that is typically male-dominated – and above the 21.9 percent of women who earned engineering degrees in the U.S., according to a 2018 study by the American Society for Engineering Education. “When I was an undergrad in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, I was typically one of two or three girls in a classroom of 40 students. I only had two female engineering professors during my entire undergraduate studies,” said Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science. “This often led me to feel like I didn’t belong or have what it takes to be a successful engineer.” This feeling partially inspired Hornbostel to become a professor and improve female representation in engineering education. “I want future female engineering students to have a role model and feel like they belong,” she said. “Whenever I teach undergraduates at Pitt, I’m so encouraged by the number of female students in my classroom. I love how they seem so comfortable speaking up and asking questions. Representation truly makes a difference.” Back in 1933 and despite being the only woman among a crowd of male peers, Haller enjoyed her studies and graduated at the top of her class. Coming from a family of engineers and preferring mathematics to dolls, her career choice was destined, but the journey would be difficult. For Haller, who transferred to Pitt from the all-women’s Sweet Briar College after her freshman year, community had to be found outside of the classroom. In addition to her engineering studies, Haller was also a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and Quax, a women's honorary science sorority founded by seven female science majors in 1919. Today, more so than in the early 20th century, women at Pitt can still find opportunities to connect with their peers through numerous groups, such as DIVA (Determined Intelligent Victorious Available), a student run organization dedicated to empowering women of color in the Swanson School. Engineering alumna Brianna Pinckney (BS CEE’15) got her first taste of female leadership when she was asked to lead DIVA by her mentor Yvette Moore, director of Pitt EXCEL. “I had no idea this role would unleash an unknown passion to support, challenge and help expose other women to achieving personal and professional opportunities they most likely would not consider for themselves,” she said. “Women-led organizations have also taught me that we (women) don't have to compete for success; we're stronger as a unit by encouraging and celebrating each other and building off of previous success stories.” These organizations have effectively helped women create community and network of support in pursuing research and a career in STEM. Confidence to Succeed Amid New Challenges Haller’s research at Pitt included studying downtown department stores and determining the amount of light that attracts the most public attention to store window displays. She hoped to continue research in Pittsburgh after graduation and was optimistic about her prospects. “I think the average woman can accomplish more with a buttonhook or a hair pin than the average man does with the aid of a step ladder, a whole set of tools and a wife to hand him things,” she said in the Post-Gazette article. Haller’s enthusiasm for engineering and bold career move helped open the door for other women to enter the field; however, for some, the journey still is not simple. “As a female engineer, we are often told to quickly establish our presence and find our voice amongst the sea of men in our industry; as a minority female, the pressure to define your role and prove your worth is only intensified,” Pinckney said. “With more than five years of industry experience under my belt, I've challenged myself to engage in conversations and opportunities that positively highlight my knowledge, experience and ultimately my worth as a team member.” As the field continues to grow and adapt to the changing workforce, leaders and mentors play a pivotal role in motivating and inspiring people of all genders, races, and backgrounds. “Having a support system through EXCEL, DIVA, and our advisor Ms. Moore has been crucial to my success as an engineer,” said Fodun Ologunde, a senior computer engineering student who also serves as a leader and social media chair of DIVA. “From professional workshops to wellness seminars, the ladies created a safe space and provided the motivation to keep going. It is always encouraging to engage with women who have shared experiences and who genuinely care about my success and wellbeing as an engineer and also as a friend.” During Women’s History Month and the 175th anniversary of the Swanson School of Engineering, the university community can also celebrate 98 years of women in engineering at Pitt. “I’m proud of what we have accomplished in the Swanson School, and it is a legacy which I think Emmy Lou Haller would be tremendously proud,” said Mary Besterfield-Sacre, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Industrial Engineering. “However, we still have a way to go to not only have parity, but to improve equity within the field itself. To do that, we will continue to recruit the next generation of women engineering students to Pitt.” # # # Image 1: Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials scienceImage 2: Brianna Pinckney (BS CEE’15), Business Development Engineer, Turner ConstructionImage 3: Fodun Ologunde, a senior computer engineering student and leader and social media chair of DIVAImage 4: Mary Besterfield-Sacre, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Industrial Engineering, and Director of the Engineering Education Research Center

Feb

Feb
25
2021

ECE Professor Heng Huang Receives Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 25, 2021) — Heng Huang, the John A. Jurenko Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been named a Senior Scholar in this year’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Awards. The Award honors faculty members who have an outstanding record of research and academic achievement. Recipients received letters from Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and will receive a $2,000 cash prize and a $3,000 grant to support their teaching, research or public service activities. The selection committee noted that they were impressed by Huang’s “exceptional contributions to machine learning, artificial intelligence and biomedical data science, which have made an impact on a national and international scale and have a wide range of industrial applications.” His peers remarked, “Dr. Huang’s accomplishments are among the most significant contributions to the fields of machine learning, bioinformatics, and neuroinformatics in recent years.” They added, “Dr. Huang is a truly gifted and unique outstanding researcher with extraordinary skills and abilities in the research of data mining and machine learning.” You can find the full list of this year’s recipients in the University Times.

Feb
24
2021

One to Watch: College Student Prepares to Help Shape the Future of Electrical Engineering

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

Reposted from IEEE. Click here to view the original story. Poised to graduate with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) in 2022, Maurice Sturdivant, who hails from Toledo, Ohio, is excited by the prospect of joining the next generation of electrical engineers. Maurice’s interest in engineering was sparked when he began thinking about possible college majors in high school. Originally intent on studying patent law, Maurice had thought to study engineering to build up his technical background. The more he learned about the field, however, the more interested he became in it – especially the opportunities it afforded in terms of applying his technical skills in a hands-on fashion. Through further research and co-op experience, he came to realize that preparing for a career related to electrical power and renewable energy was just what he was looking for. “Electrical engineering is a very broad field, and I liked all the possibilities – especially when it comes to making sure we have sustainable power systems for the future,” he explained. “More than anything, I was drawn in by knowing there are plenty of ways that I can contribute and make sure my work counts.” An active member of the Pitt chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power and Energy Society (PES), Maurice noted that mentorship has played a prominent role in his life, and he is looking forward to the day when he can “pay it forward” and mentor others. It was, in fact, largely due to the encouragement he received from Dr. Robert Kerestes, director of Pitt’s Undergraduate Electrical Engineering Program, to “put himself out there and get involved” that led Maurice to join IEEE/PES on campus. “As a student member [of IEEE], I have gotten to know both undergraduate and graduate students through our PES club, which has expanded my network and given me the opportunity to learn about their different perspectives. Everyone has their own reasons for choosing this major, but we’re all connected by our common interests.” Maurice also serves as parliamentarian of the Pitt chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, is vice president of the Panther Amateur Radio Club, and is actively involved in the Pitt EXCEL Program – an undergraduate diversity program committed to the recruitment, retention, and graduation of academically excellent engineering undergraduates, particularly individuals from groups historically underrepresented in the field. It was all of these things, in addition to two co-op rotations at GE Power Conversion, and his participation in the Pitt EXCEL Summer Research Internship (SRI) under Brandon Grainger, PhD, assistant professor and associate director of the Electric Power Systems Laboratory in Pitt’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, that helped Maurice earn a prestigious 2020-21 Scholarship Plus Award from IEEE’s Power and Energy Society. “Applying for the scholarship not only helps support my education, but it gives me the opportunity to further involve myself in PES,” he said. “I owe so much to my mentors,” Maurice noted. “One of my biggest inspirations has been seeing other people with similar backgrounds to my own succeed in engineering and other fields. Having a diverse group of people willing to share their advice and experience has helped me in several ways. The best way I can think to give back is to share what I learn and build genuine connections with other aspiring engineers.” An avid goal setter, Maurice is already planning for life after college. His plans include going on to get his master’s degree in electrical engineering before moving up through the ranks in industry. “My goal is to find opportunities where I can work to develop more intelligent and efficient electric power systems,” he said. “Ideally, I would like to increase the availability of, and access to, these systems so that they make an impact where they are needed most.” For now, however, Maurice is looking forward to continuing his educational journey at Pitt and taking advantage of all the opportunities that lie ahead – which include a summer internship at Ford Motor Company. “I’m taking a multifaceted approach to experience as many different areas of electrical engineering as I can,” he said. “At times, it’s easy to think of engineering as purely technical, but that’s not always true because much of what you do as an engineer will affect someone. As the world keeps changing, engineering will continue to improve lives by solving problems, and I want to help find those solutions.”

Feb
19
2021

Brandon Grainger Elected Scientific Advisor on EMerge Alliance Board

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 19, 2021) … Brandon Grainger, assistant professor and Eaton Faculty Fellow of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was elected to the board of the EMerge Alliance and will serve as scientific advisor. Established in 2008, the EMerge Alliance works to promote the greater use of DC and hybrid AC/DC microgrids and power systems. The organization has a network of members across a variety of industries that influence the design, construction and management of facilities and properties. Grainger is associate director of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Electric Power Engineering Program and associate director of the Energy GRID Institute. His research interests are primarily focused on power electronic converter design with power ranges that accommodate aerospace to grid scale applications. His group studies circuit topology design, controllers, magnetics, and power semiconductor devices to ensure practical, high power dense solutions primarily for DC/DC and DC/AC converters. "I look forward to contributing my expertise in medium to high voltage power equipment to the mission of the EMerge alliance in bridging manufacturers and stakeholders in the electric power profession," he said. Grainger has contributed to more than 75 electric power engineering articles and is an annual reviewer of various power electronic conferences and transaction articles. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers where he participates in the Power Electronics Society and Industrial Electronics Society at national levels. In 2019, he received the Engineer of the Year Award from the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania, which recognizes individuals who have significant technical and professional accomplishments which contribute to the engineering profession. # # #

Jan

Jan
6
2021

Machine Learning at the Speed of Light

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 6, 2021) — As we enter the next chapter of the digital age, data traffic continues to grow exponentially. To further enhance artificial intelligence and machine learning, computers will need the ability to process vast amounts of data as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Conventional computing methods are not up to the task, but in looking for a solution, researchers have seen the light—literally. Light-based processors, called photonic processors, enable computers to complete complex calculations at incredible speeds. New research published this week in the journal Nature examines the potential of photonic processors for artificial intelligence applications. The results demonstrate for the first time that these devices can process information rapidly and in parallel, something that today’s electronic chips cannot do. “Neural networks ‘learn’ by taking in huge sets of data and recognizing patterns through a series of algorithms,” explained Nathan Youngblood, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and co-lead author. “This new processor would allow it to run multiple calculations at the same time, using different optical wavelengths for each calculation. The challenge we wanted to address is integration: How can we do computations using light in a way that’s scalable and efficient?” The fast, efficient processing the researchers sought is ideal for applications like self-driving vehicles, which need to process the data they sense from multiple inputs as quickly as possible. Photonic processors can also support applications in cloud computing, medical imaging, and more. “Light-based processors for speeding up tasks in the field of machine learning enable complex mathematical tasks to be processed at high speeds and throughputs,” said senior co-author Wolfram Pernice at the University of Münster. “This is much faster than conventional chips which rely on electronic data transfer, such as graphic cards or specialised hardware like TPUs (Tensor Processing Unit).” The research was conducted by an international team of researchers, including Pitt, the University of Münster in Germany, the Universities of Oxford and Exeter in England, the École Polytechnique Fédérale (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the IBM Research Laboratory in Zurich. The researchers combined phase-change materials—the storage material used, for example, on DVDs—and photonic structures to store data in a nonvolatile manner without requiring a continual energy supply. This study is also the first to combine these optical memory cells with a chip-based frequency comb as a light source, which is what allowed them to calculate on 16 different wavelengths simultaneously. In the paper, the researchers used the technology to create a convolutional neural network that would recognize handwritten numbers. They found that the method granted never-before-seen data rates and computing densities. “The convolutional operation between input data and one or more filters – which can be a highlighting of edges in a photo, for example – can be transferred very well to our matrix architecture,” said Johannes Feldmann, graduate student at the University of Münster and lead author of the study. “Exploiting light for signal transference enables the processor to perform parallel data processing through wavelength multiplexing, which leads to a higher computing density and many matrix multiplications being carried out in just one timestep. In contrast to traditional electronics, which usually work in the low GHz range, optical modulation speeds can be achieved with speeds up to the 50 to 100 GHz range.” The paper, “Parallel convolution processing using an integrated photonic tensor core,” (DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03070-1) was published in Nature and coauthored by Johannes Feldmann, Nathan Youngblood, Maxim Karpov, Helge Gehring, Xuan Li, Maik Stappers, Manuel Le Gallo, Xin Fu, Anton Lukashchuk, Arslan Raja, Junqiu Liu, David Wright, Abu Sebastian, Tobias Kippenberg, Wolfram Pernice, and Harish Bhaskaran.
Maggie Pavlick