N.C. State University has received one of its largest corporate grants to finance a private research project for Silicon Valley computing giant Intel.
Intel's $1.5 million contract with N.C. State pays for 13 professors, researchers and graduate students -- including an electrical and computer engineering professor from Duke University -- to improve on 3D computer chip technology.
The goal of the project is stack computer chips in a bid to boost the energy efficiency of a computer's processors by up to 25 percent. Achieving that efficiency goal would generate that much more computing power at server farms and other facilities that depend on gargantuan amounts of electricity to operate.
"We're re-architecting the computer, changing the way a computer works, to exploit the third dimension," said N.C. State electrical and computer engineering professor Paul Franzon, the lead researcher on the project.
Stacking computer chips goes back to the 1980s but interest in 3D chips has intensified only in the past three years.
One of the challenges the project has to overcome is to get the chips to communicate with each other, and to manage the increased heat output from the stacked chips.
N.C. State signed its contract with Intel in September and university officials are hoping to piggyback federal defense funding onto the project. The Intel research contract is one of the 20 biggest N.C. State has signed.
The largest private interest grant N.C. State has received to date was $17.6 million from Philip Morris USA to study the tobacco genome over a five-year period ending 2007. The second largest was from the non-profit Semiconductor Research Corp., for $15.8 million, for research from 1998 to 2006.
Such industry ties, once spurned by academics, today are widely embraced in academia. In recent decades universities have increasingly relied on government grants and industry contracts to conduct contract research with commercial potential, rather than on independent research without obvious practical benefits.