CAPTION By splitting programs across a large number of processor cores, the KiloCore chip designed at UC Davis can run at high clock speeds with high energy efficiency. CREDIT Andy Fell/UC Davis

Thought to be the fastest chip designed in a university lab

A microchip containing 1,000 independent programmable processors has been designed by a team at the University of California, Davis, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The energy-efficient "KiloCore" chip has a maximum computation rate of 1.78 trillion instructions per second and contains 621 million transistors. The KiloCore was presented at the 2016 Symposium on VLSI Technology and Circuits in Honolulu on June 16.

"To the best of our knowledge, it is the world's first 1,000-processor chip and it is the highest clock-rate processor ever designed in a university," said Bevan Baas, professor of electrical and computer engineering, who led the team that designed the chip architecture. While other multiple-processor chips have been created, none exceed about 300 processors, according to an analysis by Baas' team. Most were created for research purposes and few are sold commercially. The KiloCore chip was fabricated by IBM using their 32 nm CMOS technology.

Each processor core can run its own small program independently of the others, which is a fundamentally more flexible approach than so-called Single-Instruction-Multiple-Data approaches utilized by processors such as GPUs; the idea is to break an application up into many small pieces, each of which can run in parallel on different processors, enabling high throughput with lower energy use, Baas said.

Because each processor is independently clocked, it can shut itself down to further save energy when not needed, said graduate student Brent Bohnenstiehl, who developed the principal architecture. Cores operate at an average maximum clock frequency of 1.78 GHz, and they transfer data directly to each other rather than using a pooled memory area that can become a bottleneck for data.

The chip is the most energy-efficient "many-core" processor ever reported, Baas said. For example, the 1,000 processors can execute 115 billion instructions per second while dissipating only 0.7 Watts, low enough to be powered by a single AA battery. The KiloCore chip executes instructions more than 100 times more efficiently than a modern laptop processor.

Applications already developed for the chip include wireless coding/decoding, video processing, encryption, and others involving large amounts of parallel data such as scientific data applications and datacenter record processing.

The team has completed a compiler and automatic program mapping tools for use in programming the chip.

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Advanced CAE tools help German manufacturer front load development processes by optimizing component structure and shape before the final design: Altair Engineering, Inc., a leading global provider of technology and services that empower client innovation and decision-making, today announced that MT Aerospace AG - a supplier of components and subsystems for the aerospace industry and a systems supplier for antennas and mechatronics - has chosen the Altair HyperWorks suite of software solutions to optimize its product development processes. The company will implement HyperWorks tools within the design and optimization processes of its advanced aerospace components and, in doing so, will frontload the development process. In addition, the company will use HyperMesh for pre- and post-processing tasks, as well as to modify models for finite-element (FE) analysis.

Just over a year ago, the UK government announced an investment of £270m over five years to help get quantum technology out of laboratories and into the marketplace.

Oxford was chosen to lead one of four EPSRC-funded 'Hubs' looking at different aspects of quantum technology - in Oxford's case, shaping the future of quantum networking and supercomputing, towards the ultimate goal of developing a functioning quantum supercomputer.

Since then, the Networked Quantum Information Technologies (NQIT - pronounced 'N-kit') Hub, based at Oxford but involving nearly 30 academic and industrial partners, has been focusing on developing quantum technologies that could dwarf the processing power of today's supercomputers.

A new paper by Oxford researchers, published in the journal Nature, demonstrates how the work of the Hub is progressing.

Professor David Lucas of Oxford's Department of Physics, co-leader, with Professor Andrew Steane, of the ion trap quantum computing group, explains: 'The development of a "quantum computer" is one of the outstanding technological challenges of the 21st century. A quantum computer is a machine that processes information according to the rules of quantum physics, which govern the behaviour of microscopic particles at the scale of atoms and smaller. 

'An important point is that it is not merely a different technology for computing in the same way our everyday computers work; it is at a very fundamental level a different way of processing information. It turns out that this quantum-mechanical way of manipulating information gives quantum computers the ability to solve certain problems far more efficiently than any conceivable conventional computer. One such problem is related to breaking secure codes, while another is searching large data sets. Quantum computers are naturally well-suited to simulating other quantum systems, which may help, for example, our understanding of complex molecules relevant to chemistry and biology.' 

One of the leading technologies for building a quantum supercomputer is trapped atomic ions, and a principal goal of the NQIT project is to develop the constituent elements of a quantum supercomputer based on these ions. 

Professor Lucas says: 'Each trapped ion (a single atom, with one electron removed) is used to represent one "quantum bit" of information. The quantum states of the ions are controlled with laser pulses of precise frequency and duration. Two different species of ion are needed in the computer: one to store information (a "memory qubit") and one to link different parts of the computer together via photons (an "interface qubit").'

The Nature paper, whose lead author is Magdalen College Junior Research Fellow Chris Ballance, demonstrates the all-important quantum 'logic gate' between two different species of ion - in this case two isotopes of calcium, the abundant isotope calcium-40 and the rare isotope calcium-43. 

Professor Lucas says: 'The Oxford team has previously shown that calcium-43 makes the best single-qubit memory ever demonstrated, across all physical systems, while the calcium-40 ion has a simpler structure which is well-suited for use as an "interface qubit". The logic gate, which was first demonstrated for same-species ions at NIST Boulder (USA) in 2003, allows quantum information to be transferred from one qubit to another; in the present work, the qubits reside in the two different isotopes, stored in the same ion trap. The Oxford work was the first to demonstrate that this type of logic gate is possible with the demanding precision necessary to build a quantum supercomputer.

'In a nice piece of "spin-off science" from this technological achievement, we were able to perform a "Bell test", by first using the high-precision logic gate to generate an entangled state of the two different-species ions, then manipulating and measuring them independently. This is a test which probes the non-local nature of quantum mechanics; that is, the fact that an entangled state of two separated particles has properties that cannot be mimicked by a classical system. This was the first time such a test had been performed on two different species of atom separated by many times the atomic size.' 

While Professor Lucas cautions that the so-called 'locality loophole' is still present in this experiment, there is no doubt the work is an important contribution to the growing body of research exploring the physics of entanglement. He says: 'The significance of the work for trapped-ion quantum computing is that we show that quantum logic gates between different isotopic species are possible, can be driven by a relatively simple laser system, and can work with precision beyond the so-called "fault-tolerant threshold" precision of approximately 99% - the precision necessary to implement the techniques of quantum error correction, without which a quantum computer of useful size cannot be built.'

In the long term, it is likely that different atomic elements will be required, rather than different isotopes. In closely related work published in the same issue of Nature, by Ting Rei Tan et al, the NIST Ion Storage group has demonstrated a different type of quantum logic gate using ions of two different elements (beryllium and magnesium).

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MD Nastran Rotor Dynamics Enhances Collaboration and Streamlines the Design Process: MSC.Software, the leading global provider of enterprise simulation solutions including simulation software and services, today announced that the Aerospace Division of Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. (IHI), a leading manufacturer of jet engines, has selected MSC.Software's industry standard, multi-discipline analysis solver MD Nastran to perform rotor dynamics analysis for the development of jet engines.

CAPTION Illustration depicting biocell attached to CMOS integrated circuit with membrane containing sodium-potassium pumps in pore. CREDIT Trevor Finney and Jared Roseman/Columbia Engineering

System combines biological ion channels with solid-state transistors to create a new kind of electronics

Columbia Engineering researchers have, for the first time, harnessed the molecular machinery of living systems to power an integrated circuit from adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of life. They achieved this by integrating a conventional solid-state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit with an artificial lipid bilayer membrane containing ATP-powered ion pumps, opening the door to creating entirely new artificial systems that contain both biological and solid-state components. The study, led by Ken Shepard, Lau Family Professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, is published online Dec. 7 in Nature Communications.

"In combining a biological electronic device with CMOS, we will be able to create new systems not possible with either technology alone," says Shepard. "We are excited at the prospect of expanding the palette of active devices that will have new functions, such as harvesting energy from ATP, as was done here, or recognizing specific molecules, giving chips the potential to taste and smell. This was quite a unique new direction for us and it has great potential to give solid-state systems new capabilities with biological components."  

Shepard, whose lab is a leader in the development of engineered solid-state systems interfaced to biological systems, notes that despite its overwhelming success, CMOS solid-state electronics is incapable of replicating certain functions natural to living systems, such as the senses of taste and smell and the use of biochemical energy sources. Living systems achieve this functionality with their own version of electronics based on lipid membranes and ion channels and pumps, which act as a kind of 'biological transistor.' They use charge in the form of ions to carry energy and information -- ion channels control the flow of ions across cell membranes. Solid-state systems, such as those in computers and communication devices, use electrons; their electronic signaling and power are controlled by field-effect transistors. 

In living systems, energy is stored in potentials across lipid membranes, in this case created through the action of ion pumps. ATP is used to transport energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed in the cell. To build a prototype of their hybrid system, Shepard's team, led by PhD student Jared Roseman, packaged a CMOS integrated circuit (IC) with an ATP-harvesting 'biocell.' In the presence of ATP, the system pumped ions across the membrane, producing an electrical potential harvested by the IC.

"We made a macroscale version of this system, at the scale of several millimeters, to see if it worked," Shepard notes. "Our results provide new insight into a generalized circuit model, enabling us to determine the conditions to maximize the efficiency of harnessing chemical energy through the action of these ion pumps. We will now be looking at how to scale the system down." 

While other groups have harvested energy from living systems, Shepard and his team are exploring how to do this at the molecular level, isolating just the desired function and interfacing this with electronics. "We don't need the whole cell," he explains. "We just grab the component of the cell that's doing what we want. For this project, we isolated the ATPases because they were the proteins that allowed us to extract energy from ATP."

The ability to build a system that combines the power of solid-state electronics with the capabilities of biological components has great promise. "You need a bomb-sniffing dog now, but if you can take just the part of the dog that is useful -- the molecules that are doing the sensing -- we wouldn't need the whole animal," says Shepard. 

"With appropriate scaling, this technology could provide a power source for implanted systems in ATP-rich environments such as inside living cells," added Roseman.

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