Suman Datta, Ph.D.
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Suman Datta uses cutting-edge techniques in nanotechnology and computer-aided design to develop higher-performing semiconductors. His contributions to the field have brought new transistor architectures and, in collaboration with material scientists, new materials that have transformed semiconductor technology into what was once thought impossible.
Before joining the Georgia Tech in 2022, Datta led a $40 million, multi-university research center on microelectronics at University of Notre Dame. The center identified ways to overcome barriers to creating semiconductors with higher memory capacity and greater computing efficiency. It also identified pathways to semiconductors that perform better for neuromorphic computing, which uses electronic circuits to mimic how the human brain processes, stores and recalls information.
Transistors are the building blocks of all modern electronics. They are present in everything from fridges and televisions to computers and mobile phones to airplanes and satellites. Since their discovery 75 years ago, they have been getting increasingly small and fast, enabling even a small smartphone to be as powerful as mainframe computers were a couple decades ago.
In the early 2000s, Datta was a member of the team at Intel Corporation that pioneered several generations of advanced-logic transistor technologies. At the time, all computer-chip transistors were based on silicon and used silicon dioxide as the insulator to control the switching operation. But as insulators are thinned down to make transistors smaller, electrons start to leak through the silicon dioxide. Datta led a team that designed a transistor that replaced the silicon dioxide with a transition metal oxide. This substitution of materials lessened leakage – a monumental feat in the industry – and the new transistors, called high-K and metal gate transistors, opened the door to further miniaturization.
Datta and his Intel team were able to take miniaturization another step further when they designed the first-ever 3-D transistor, called the tri-gate transistor — half the size of the already innovative high-K ones. Gates in a transistor are what control electrical signals, the “on and off” flow of information. Having the gate on three sides instead of one side made it possible to operate the transistor much more efficiently while using much less energy. Since 2011, 3-D transistors have been manufactured at scale and are used in every new computer and smartphone.
More recently, Datta has worked on transistor designs that enable computer chips to operate while using very little energy. These ultra-low-power transistors turn off and on with very little voltage; and that low-voltage operation reduces demand for battery power. The technology is especially beneficial to smart sensor networks. In a device that turns on intermittently to take a measurement, such a transistor can prolong battery life by years. It can even be powered by energy scavenged from the environment.
Some of Datta’s latest and more exploratory research involves combining the part of a chip that does computation with the part that houses information. Information stored in one part of the computer is accessed a to perform an operation; after that, it gets re-stored. But if that information did not have to be moved from the memory area to the computation area and back again, it could mean much faster and more energy-efficient computation.
To integrate these two functions onto a single transistor, Datta has built pioneering prototypes that use ferroelectric field effect transistors. While normal transistors use voltage to control the flow of current, ferroelectric transistors have an extra property at play – a switchable electric dipole arising from atomic scale displacement of atoms.
Not only can an external control voltage make the dipole point up or down (similar to information stored in a computer as either a 1 or 0); it also retains the state when the transistor is powered off. In such a ferroelectric transistor, the information is stored like a memory at the same time it operates as a high-speed transistor.
Datta is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He has published over 450 journal and refereed conference papers and holds nearly 190 issued patents. At Georgia Tech, he is the Joseph M. Pettit Chair Professor with a joint appointment in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering.
- Heterogenous computing with advanced complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS)
- Brain-inspired, collective-state computing with advanced CMOS and beyond-CMOS semiconductors
- Emerging semiconductors, like ferroelectric field effect transistors, insulator-to-metal phase transition oxides, high-mobility semiconducting oxides for near and in-memory computing and storage
- Semiconductors for cryogenic computing and harsh environment computing
Straight from the Scholar
“Coming to Georgia was very attractive to me because, as a semiconductor engineer, I could work with material scientists, circuit designers and system architects. There aren’t too many places in the country where you could find all those experts in one place. We are in a very strong technical leadership position in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the College of Engineering overall.”