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Advancing Work on Electronics Systems in Extreme Environments

Advancing Work on Electronics Systems in Extreme Environments
Jia Di, professor of computer science and computer engineering

Jia Di, professor of computer science and computer engineering

The National Science Foundation awarded University of Arkansas computer engineering professor Jia Di $349,198 to advance his design of microcontrollers that can operate in extreme environmental conditions, such as space.

In addition to electronic systems used in space vehicles and satellites, the technology has many other commercial applications, such as sensing and control in automobile engines, monitoring and drilling of wells in oil and gas exploration, medical imaging, lasers, and computing and energy-storage systems.

The award is part of the NSF’s Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry program. Di will collaborate with Radiance Technologies Inc., a Huntsville, Alabama, systems-engineering and technology firm, to refine his work on asynchronous microcontrollers that rely on local “handshaking” protocols instead of traditional timing protocols that rely on global clocks.

Currently, electronic system circuits are time based, with data transfers occurring within a specific timeframe. Extremely low or high temperatures can affect circuit speed in these traditional, time-based systems, which often causes them to malfunction in harsh environments.

Di’s design of digitally integrated circuits relies on asynchronous logic to make chips run more efficiently. Each part of the circuit uses what are called handshaking protocols, which is a communication mechanism between two adjacent circuit components that notify each other about their operation status. These protocols indicate when one task is finished and the next one can begin.

Using this approach, the researchers will design, build and test a prototype microcontroller that they hope to commercialize. The objective is to achieve robust system operation with low-power consumption, which conserves battery and harvested energy.

In addition to electronic systems used in space vehicles and satellites, the technology has many other commercial applications, such as sensing and control in automobile engines, monitoring and drilling of wells in oil and gas exploration, medical imaging, lasers, and computing and energy-storage systems.

Di holds the Twenty-First Century Research Leadership Chair in the College of Engineering.

About The Author

A former newspaper reporter, Matt McGowan writes about research in the College of Engineering, Sam M. Walton College of Business, School of Law and other areas. He is the editor of Short Talks From the Hill, a podcast of the University of Arkansas. Reach him at 479-575-4246, or dmcgowa@uark.edu.

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