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Feds Fund Research For Breakthrough Microprocessors

NIST offers $2.6 million grant for research in new methods to overcome the limits that existing CMOS technology will reach in the next 10 to 15 years.

Slideshow: Government's 10 Most Powerful Supercomputers
Slideshow: Government's 10 Most Powerful Supercomputers
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The federal government plans to spend $2.6 million in initial funding for a research project to develop next-generation computer chip technology.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)--the Department of Commerce component that creates federal technology standards--is offering the grant money for new ideas in chips beyond existing complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology, which the feds as well as the industry expect to outlive its usefulness in 10 to 15 years, according to documents posted about the funding opportunity on Grants.gov.

In the next decade or so, components will shrink to the atomic scale, making it more difficult to use CMOS technology to increase the density of components on a chip and achieve low-power operation, according to NIST.

Research ideas of particular interest to the feds are technologies in the field of nanoscale electronics--also known as nanoelectronics--that leverage nanotechnology to achieve power, density, performance, or cost benefits over CMOS, according to NIST.

[ IBM pursues a different chip path. See IBM Reveals Chip That Acts Like Human Brain. ]

The feds also are interested in:
-- devices that use alternative state vectors such as collective effects, spin, and magnetics for manipulating information;
-- devices with higher computational density such as high-logic efficiency or re-configurability;
-- chip architectures that can exploit nonconventional device behavior--such as non-Boolean and analog--that manages information flow;
-- new interconnect approaches; and
-- non-equilibrium systems that are more immune to noise and can achieve low-energy operation.

NIST anticipates awarding the grant money to partnerships led by the semiconductor industry but that includes commercial, academic, nonprofit, and government organizations. NIST will make one multi-year award of $2.6 million for the project in fiscal-year 2012, with the opportunity of project performance of up to five years. Therefore, a proposer could potentially be awarded $2.4 million to $2.6 million a year for five years for semiconductor research, according to NIST. Interested parties have until April 16 to submit proposals for the grant money, and NIST anticipates making the first awards in October.

The feds have a vested interest in the semiconductor industry as part of the Obama administration's focus on technology initiatives that promote job creation and improve the United States' business profile against overseas competitors.

Semiconductors are the United States' largest export product and the industry is a significant employer of Americans, according to NIST. Semiconductor exports average $48 billion per year in international sales, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). In 2010, U.S. semiconductor companies generated $144 billion in sales, and the industry provides jobs for about 6 million people in the United States.

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