Take this $15m and make us some ultra-energy-efficient superconductor chips, scientists told

A fair price to get everyone to stop talking about Moore's Law for good

Researchers in the US have received a $15 million National Science Foundation (NSF) award to develop superconductor chips that ought to be much faster and use significantly less energy than the hardware the world today relies on for computing.

A team at the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering is leading the effort, and it goes by the name DISCoVER, a rather fun acronym that stands for Design and Integration of Superconductive Computation for Ventures beyond Exascale Realization.

As the name suggests, the scientists are looking to use superconducting materials as an alternative to today's semiconductors to develop new kinds of superfast and highly energy efficient integrated circuits that can enable sustainable and large-scale exascale computing.

Creating supercomputers that can deliver more than one exaflop, or one quintillion floating-point operations per second, has been a strategically important goal for the United States and other countries, including China, as they can dramatically speed up critical research projects, ranging from drug development to climate change modeling.

There is a concern, however, that today's approaches to designing and fabricating silicon processors will hit a wall and no longer scale sufficiently to provide post-exaflop performance, hence the need for things like superconductor research to hopefully overcome that technological barrier.

Margaret Martonosi, the NSF's assistant director for computing and information science and engineering, said the $15 million award to DISCoVER, announced on Friday, is meant to "support efforts that envision future materials for computing systems in a post-Moore's Law era."

DISCoVER's work entails developing complete hardware and software systems that "enable the design, optimization, and demonstration of novel superconducting devices, single flux quantum logic circuits, and superconductive systems with very high performance and ultra-high energy efficiency, approaching the theoretical limit of energy efficiency."

More specifically, the team is focused on chips that use niobium-based Josephson junctions, devices that consist of two superconducting materials that are connected by a non-superconducting material. These devices can only operate at the super low temperature of 4.2 Kelvin (equal to -452 degrees Fahrenheit or -269 degrees Celsius), and they store logic values of zeroes and ones "by creating or removing persistent currents in superconducting loops."

The real neat thing about these superconducting loops is that they "exhibit zero resistance and thus, do not lose energy," as stated by DISCoVER. This is a big reason why superconductor chips have such staggering implications for energy efficiency in computing.

A long road ahead

There is a tremendous amount of work to be done, so DISCoVER is divvying it up between the USC Viterbi team and researchers at several other universities, which includes Auburn University in Alabama, Cornell University in New York, Northeastern University in Boston, Northwestern University in Illinois, University of Rochester in New York, and Yokohama National University in Japan.

The USC Viterbi team will focus its efforts on developing superconductive circuits and architectures for a wide range of applications, including general-purpose processors, neural network accelerators, and classical control systems for quantum computers.

The other university researchers, on the other hand, will work in tandem with the USC Viterbi team on enabling the "design and prototyping of a superconductive system of cryogenic computing cores," which carries the unbelievably cool acronym of SuperSoCC.

The SuperSoCC work will involve a focus on novel materials and devices, on-chip memory design, and interfaces that will allow the SuperSoCC to interact with room-temperature electronics.

DISCoVER believes the SuperSOCC could be at least 100 times more energy efficient than traditional chips made using silicon-based CMOS transistors while providing the same level of performance as "state-of-the-art" multi-core semiconductor chips. On the flip side, the team thinks the SuperSoCC could provide at least 100 times faster performance at the same energy level as CMOS-based chips.

Notably, DISCoVER said these major gains are possible despite the energy cost of cryogenic cooling, which is required for the SuperSOCC.

Ultimately, DISCoVER hopes to "empower a new generation of diverse engineers and entrepreneurs who will bring superconductive devices and circuits to the mainstream of high-performance computing."

"With fundamental CMOS scaling limits close in sight, the time is ripe for an expedition to explore emerging disruptive computing technologies," said Massoud Pedram, a USC professor and green computing expert who is leading DISCoVER. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022