Jun Yao, an assistant professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and an adjunct professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department at UMass Amherst, is the principal investigator on a very significant, $1,474,272 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Yao’s project is developing ultra-low-power electronic components and systems for signal retrieval, processing, and storage with power consumption similar to biological systems in living organisms, which require much less power than currently available in electronics manufactured by humans.
The co-principal investigators for Yao’s NSF project, titled “Toward Biological-Level Power in Information Processing, Storage, Sensing and Bio-interfacing,” are Professor Derek Lovley of the UMass Microbiology Department and Professor Xiaocheng Jiang of Tufts University.
As Yao explains about his project, he and his colleagues aim to take a pioneering step forward in imitating biological systems to construct emerging electronics by mimicking the power consumption and efficiency of living organisms. While developing such electronics, the research team will introduce what Yao calls “material similarity” and “parameter matching” into the manufacturing process.
Yao goes on to explain his terminology: “Material similarity means that we are seeking biomaterials or bio-derived materials to make better electronics, a process which adds the benefits of bio-compatibility and eco-friendliness. Parameter matching means that we are looking for biological-level power consumption, which is much lower than that in conventional electronics, in the advanced electronics we are now developing.”
According to Yao and his collaborators, “The project takes a fundamentally new approach to improving computing efficiency and storage capacity that can form the basis for self-sustained living or hybrid micro-electronic systems.”
The researchers say that their advanced electronics, which have power requirements comparable to biological organisms, can naturally interface with biological systems. These emerging electronics are therefore perfect for potential applications in brain-mimic computation, self-sustained microbots, advanced human-machine interfaces, and prosthetics.
The researchers also note that the interdisciplinary nature of their research provides an excellent platform for outreach and broadened participation in the education of underrepresented students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Yao heads the Yao Research Group, an interdisciplinary team interested in synthesis and engineering micro/nanoscale materials to enable novel devices, sensors, and their integration on rigid or soft frameworks for functional electronic or bioelectronic systems. One of the main strategies of his lab is to borrow from ‘biological integration’ for smart and efficient engineering. (August 2020)