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Software written by Jing Li, right, and her students -- including Jialiang Zhang, left -- allows programmers to directly use existing coding languages with the new Liquid Silicon chips. Credit: UW-Madison/Stephanie Precourt.
Computer chips in development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison could make future computers more efficient and powerful by combining tasks usually kept separate by design.
Li - Assistant - Professor - Computer - Engineering
Jing Li, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison, is creating computer chips that can be configured to perform complex calculations and store massive amounts of information within the same integrated unit—and communicate efficiently with other chips. She calls them "liquid silicon."
"Liquid means software and silicon means hardware. It is a collaborative software/hardware technique," says Li. "You can have a supercomputer in a box if you want. We want to target a lot of very interesting and data-intensive applications, including facial or voice recognition, natural language processing, and graph analytics."
Number-crunching - Processors - Data - Warehousing - Storage
The high-speed number-crunching of processors and the data warehousing of big storage memory in modern computers usually fall to two entirely different types of hardware.
"There's a huge bottleneck when classical computers need to move data between memory and processor," says Li. "We're building a unified hardware that can bridge the gap between computation and storage."
Processor - Memory - Chips - Manufacturing - Foundries
Processor and memory chips are typically separately produced by different manufacturing foundries, then assembled together by system engineers on printed circuit boards to make computers and smartphones. The separation means even simple operations, like searches, require multiple steps to accomplish: first fetching data from the memory, then sending that data all the way through the deep storage hierarchy to the processor core.
The chips Li is developing, by contrast, incorporate memory, computation and communication into the same device using a layered design called monolithic 3D integration: silicon and semiconductor circuitry on the bottom connected with solid-state memory arrays on the...
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