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ILP Institute Insider

November 3, 2014
News Feature Thumbnail

Extreme Materials
and Ubiquitous Electronics

Nearly everyone seems to carry a cell phone or tablet. But if Tomás Palacios’s vision of the future of electronics comes to bear, it will be increasingly difficult to separate electronics from all the other structures and materials surrounding us. An electrical engineer by training, Palacios, MIT Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, develops new materials to bring electronic devices to the next level and beyond. “We are always trying to mix materials, engineering and physics to create a prototype device that can get people excited about new applications and opportunities,” he says.
Tomás Palacios
Associate Professor
Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
Palacios believes we are at the most exciting time for semiconductor research in the last 30-40 years because of the advent of new materials with new unique properties. “My group works exactly at that intersection,” he says. Currently, Palacios is intent on developing new applications based on two main types of semiconductor material families that he believes will shape the future of electronics: gallium nitride (GaN) and two-dimensional materials, such as graphene and molybdenum disulfide.

Gallium Nitride Reduces Wasted Energy
Roughly sixty years ago, silicon-based devices began to answer the challenge of that time, which was how to build larger and larger computers. “Today’s challenge is energy,” says Palacios, “and we believe that gallium nitride can be just as important in addressing the energy challenge as silicon was in addressing the information challenge.”

With energy demands expected to double within the next 20-25 years, the associated technical, political and societal challenges are obvious. But Palacios finds some ‘good’ news in our current state of energy use. “Half of the electricity we make now is wasted as heat and never used to produce actual work,” he explains. “Gallium nitride gives an opportunity to reduce a big portion of that wasted fifty percent.” GaN-based lighting, for example, is expected to save between 10 to 20% of the world's electricity, while high voltage GaN switches used inside power supplies could cut the energy wasted by another 10 to 20%.

As a principal investigator in the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MIT/MTL), Palacios directs the MIT/MTL Gallium Nitride Energy Initiative. Its goal is to facilitate the research of about 15 MIT groups with industry to advance the science and engineering of GaN-based materials and devices for energy applications. If Palacios and colleagues are successful, he estimates that GaN could save $1 trillion in energy costs within 10-15 years. But first, an ecosystem of industries working with GaN needs to be established including developing the basic materials, the circuits, the devices and ultimately the systems that will end up producing that $1 trillion of energy savings by 2025.

2D semiconductor ‘extreme’ materials
Two dimensional (2D) materials, like graphene and molybdenum disulfide, are truly unique. “They are the thinnest materials you can think of,” says Palacios. Just one-to-three atoms thick, these layered materials are orders of magnitude stronger than steel and much lighter. “They are truly extreme materials,” he adds. “There is nothing lighter, more flexible, more transparent, nothing better for ubiquitous electronic devices.”

Palacios research group is trying to find ways of increasing the market for electronics by 10-fold. “What we do with 2D semiconductors is to bring electronics to the 95 percent of objects that surround us but do not have electronics yet,” he explains of his vision of ubiquitous electronics. “If we are able to do that, we can increase the impact and reach of the electronics industry at least by 10-fold.” As director of the MIT/MTL Center for Graphene Devices and 2D Systems, Palacios and colleagues from 15-20 research groups at MIT partner with more than ten companies from around the world to advance the development and application of graphene and other 2D semiconductors and materials.

“If we are to embed some level of intelligence in every object that would change electronics and it would change society,” Palacios says. Using 2D materials, his research group has already developed integrated electronic circuits into paper, fabric and textiles. He is even using a 3D printer to fabricate objects with integrated sensors and energy harvesting devices. Palacios view of the reach of embedded electronics is itself extreme, ranging from embedded window displays to a wide variety of biomedical electronics.

Commitment to Industrial Collaborations
“Everyone at MIT understands that to change the world, the basic research done in our labs can’t stay in our labs,” says Palacios. To make that a reality for his research, Palacios teams with many industrial partners and organizations on many different levels. At any given time, between 3-5 visiting industrial engineers will be in residence at his lab for periods ranging from just a few weeks to a couple of years. His students often work in the facilities of his industrial partners as well. Regardless of how the relationship is structured, Palacios believes the best collaborations are those where the industrial collaborator is ‘all-in’ — heavily enthused, engaged and committed to the project.

Research News

October 31, 2014

MIT startups win big at MassChallenge

On Wednesday night, 12 MIT-affiliated startups that participated in this year’s MassChallenge, the world’s largest startup accelerator, took home top prizes — ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 — from the program’s annual awards ceremony.

This year, MassChallenge accepted 128 startups for its accelerator program, which began in June. But only 26 finalists — selected by a panel of judges — pitched their business plans for competition at MassChallenge’s awards ceremony; 21 of those earned awards.

Of those winners, 12 were MIT-affiliated startups, with at least one founding member who is an MIT professor, student, or recent alumnus: Two captured the $100,000 “diamond” grand prize, eight earned $50,000 “gold” prizes, and four others won various “side-car” prizes of $10,000 or $25,000.

MIT Sloan
Management Review

October 27, 2014

Capturing the “Chatter Data” That Advertisers Want

As Facebook becomes more global and more mobile-centric, it’s also becoming more versed at laying customer data over advertiser data and third-party data.

One outcome is more customized experiences for its users. Another is a better ability to reach specific demographics for its advertisers.

But a third outcome is the ability to “listen in” on what Facebook users, in the aggregate, are talking about, and to report that information back to brands and marketers. This is what media companies call “chatter data.” It’s very valuable, and it’s something that Facebook has the potential to offer in spades.

“The kind of digital media we’re seeing a lot of asks-for from agencies and from clients and from media companies is around chatter data,” said Blake Chandlee, vice president of global partnerships at Facebook, in a recent interview with MIT Sloan Management Review.

“Chatter data is what people are talking about when they’re watching television or when they’re watching a sporting event,” he continued. “What kind of reaction are they having? Are brand mentions included? How are brands representing themselves in that kind of chatter? What kind of, say, hair color? That might affect a hair care company.”

Chandlee added: “That kind of real-time knowledge and opening up pipes for brands or their agencies and consultants and others to access that data to inform decision making is key. But privacy will always be the primary underlying consideration, which everybody has to consider because the consumer backlash if they find you using their data inappropriately is significant and quick.”

In the interview, called “How Facebook is Delivering Personalization on a Whole New Scale” and conducted by Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane, Chandlee said that Facebook is working with brands such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever to help them understand their consumers in newly detailed ways.

“Procter & Gamble might want to see data about users of hair care products and we can help them understand through our Insights platform the kinds of folks that are talking about their brands or engaging with their brands on Facebook,” he said.

“We aggregate the data so there’s no personal identifiable information shared, and help them understand what their consumers are talking about — the kind of television shows they’re watching, the kind of music they like listening to. That kind of information for a brand is very, very powerful. It helps them make a lot of different decisions around product development and communication strategies.”

For advertising agencies, Facebook is providing similar types of information. “We can help them understand frequency curves around media planning, deep insights if they overlay with some insights they have through their own proprietary insights platforms,” said Chandlee. “Again, helping them to help their brands in being more knowledgeable about people and their consumer base.”

Chandlee emphasized that the insights Facebook is able to provide brands and advertising agencies is increasing thanks to the use of mobile devices. “Today, we think mobile first,” said Chandlee. “This fundamental shift of the entire user experience is trickling down to not only our users but to our advertisers. Two years ago, we had zero ad business in the mobile environment. Now well over half of our revenue is mobile. We think between ourselves and Google, we’ve effectively shifted mobile into the forefront. And we think brands are benefitting from that because the user experience and the way brands engage with consumers in mobile is very different than a desktop experience.”

For more about how Facebook is able to deliver nuanced information to brands and marketers, read the full interview.

This article draws from “How Facebook is Delivering Personalization on a Whole New Scale,” an interview with Blake Chandlee (Facebook) conducted by Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane (MIT Sloan Management Review). It was posted online on August 5, 2014, at sloanreview.mit.edu.