Inventors' Corner: U.S. Patent #7,741,722 – Through-wafer vias

This patent describes a technique that enables fabrication of vertically stacked, high-performance three-dimensional (3-D) computer chips. The invention creates “through-silicon vias,” which are vertical connections etched through a silicon wafer and filled with metal, to boost the speed at which data flows from chip-to-chip.

The vias enable chips and memory devices that are traditionally placed side-by-side on a wafer to be stacked on top of each other. The vertical stacks eliminate the need for long metal wires that typically connect chips together. This technique significantly reduces the size of a chip package, as well as the distance that information needs to travel on a chip. Consequently, chip components can be packaged much closer together, which results in faster, smaller, and lower-power chips.

IBM is using the patented TSV technique in the production of silicon germanium (SiGe) communications chips, which power amplifiers for cellular handsets, cordless phones, wireless LAN and WiMAX applications. The through-silicon vias can improve power efficiency in SiGe-based wireless products up to 40 percent, which leads to improved performance and longer battery life.

U.S. Patent #7,741,722 was issued to IBM inventors Paul Andry, Edmund Sprogis, Kenneth Stein, Timothy Sullivan, Cornelia Tsang, Ping-Chuan Wang, and Bucknell Webb.

Using Science, not garlic, to take on energy vampires

By 2014 it is estimated that 2 billion computers will be in use. In terms of energy consumption this equals the power to run the entire country of India for one year. 

In the European Union it is estimated that standby power also known as, vampire power, accounts for about 10% of the electricity use in homes and offices of its member States -- this will rise to 49 terrawatt hours per year - nearly equivalent to the annual electricity consumption for Austria, Czech Republic and Portugal combined.
How much more pressure will be on the grid as consumers purchase more mobile phones and businesses and governments acquire more supercomputers to make sense of all the data they are collecting?
The numbers are staggering, but there is hope. Today, the European Union has announced a new project consortium called Steeper, made up of corporate R&D labs, including IBM and several Universities in Italy, Switzerland and Germany that are tackling this huge challenge at its smallest element -- the transistor.
During the next 36 months scientists in the consortium will combine their collective know-how to explore and develop tunnel field effect transistors (TFETs) based on semiconducting nanowires.  These TFETs will help to significantly reduce the power consumption of the basic building blocks of integrated circuits  from the smallest consumer electronics to massive supercomputers. 

To explain the challenge, consider a leaky water faucet -- even after closing the valve as far as possible water continues to drip -- this is similar to today’s transistor, in that energy is constantly "leaking" or being lost or wasted in the off-state.  In Steeper, scientists not only hope to contain the leak by using a new method to close the valve or gate of the transistor more tightly, but also open and close the gate for maximum current flow with less turns, i.e. less voltage for maximum efficiency.
“Power dissipation has become one of the major challenges for today’s electronics, particularly as the number of devices used by businesses and consumers multiplies globally,” said Dr. Heike Riel, who leads the nanoscale electronics group at IBM Research - Zurich. “By applying our collective research in tunnel field effect transistors with semiconducting nanowires we aim to significantly reduce the power consumption of the basic building blocks of integrated circuits affecting the smallest consumer electronics to massive, supercomputers.”
Scientist believe they can reduce power consumption in electronic devices when they are in use by a factor of 10. Even more amazing is that they believe they can reduce the power consumption to nearly zero when these same devices are in stand-by or sleep mode. This means cheaper electric bills and longer battery life for laptops, cameras and mobile phones and less pressure on the aging electrical grid.

The science behind Steeper
To achieve this, scientists will study the development of so-called tunnel FETs based on silicon (Si), silicon-germanium (SiGe) and III-V semiconducting nanowires. Nanowires are cylindrical structures measuring only a few nanometers (nm) in diameter, which allow optimum electrostatic control of the transistor channel. In a tunnel FET quantum mechanical band-to-band tunneling is exploited to switch on the device and thus achieve a steeper turn-on characteristics compared to conventional MOSFETs.
“Our vision is to share this research to enable manufacturers to build the Holy Grail in electronics, a computer that utilizes negligible energy when it’s in sleep mode, which we call the zero-watt PC,” said Prof. Adrian M. Ionescu, Nanolab, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, who is coordinating the project. With the support of the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program (FP7), project Steeper scientists will explore novel nanoscale building blocks for computer chips that aim to reduce the operating voltage to less than 0.5 Volt, thus reducing their power consumption by one order of magnitude.
The project started in June 2010 and will continue for 36 months.  Coordinated by Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Project Steeper includes leading corporate research organizations IBM Research - Zurich and Infineon, large research institutes CEA-LETI and Forschungszentrum Jülich, academic partners, University of Bologna, University of Dortmund, University of Udine and the University of Pisa and the managerial support of SCIPROM.
Vampires beware.


IBM Researcher presented with the Basex Excellence Award

IBMer Jeff Pierce is the lead researcher behind Mail Triage - an application that rethinks the mobile email experience by allowing users to quickly "triage" their email and identify what needs immediate action and what can be handled later. The project has grown out of ongoing research that attempts to understand how people use the technology devices in their lives – mobile phones, laptops, desktops, tablet computers, etc. -- and spread their computing time across them. He spoke at last year's Web 2.0 Expo about this research effort.

Today, Dr. Pierce was presented with the Basex Excellence Award, or Basey, from Basex, an NYC-based analyst firm, as part of Information Overload Awareness Day. To illustrate how IBM is addressing the issue of information overload with the Mail Triage technology, Dr. Pierce presented a short presentation as part of the Visionary Vendor Panel.

More than ever, businesses are embracing the model of a mobile enterprise. According to analyst firm IDC, there will be more than one billion mobile workers worldwide by the end of 2010 and ABI Research predicts 20 times more mobile data, and 40 times more mobile transactions by 2015.

Utilized by over half of the largest 100 corporations in the world, IBM Lotus Notes and Domino collaboration software support the full spectrum of proliferating mobile and Web-connected devices such as the Apple iPhone, Apple iPad, Blackberry, Android, laptops and desktops used to access corporate applications and business processes.

Also recognized for its contribution to Information Overload abatement is IBM's research project, Topika. Led by IBM researchers Tom Moran, Tara Matthews, and Jalal Mahmud, Topika is a tool that aggregates responses to email requests into collaboration tools used by the email recipients. It leverages knowledge of the group's collaboration tool usage to suggest the most appropriate online place to share the email thread. This enables users to better manage and understand the influx of emails received on a consistent basis. Topika now uses machine learning algorithms to match the content of an email with a profile of users' collaboration tool usage to suggest tools.

"Knowledge workers are under tremendous pressure to manage both inbound and outbound communications and the problem of Information Overload has only made getting things done more difficult," said Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex, the knowledge economy research firm that hosted the Information Overload Awareness Day event. "IBM Research has clearly been looking into addressing these issues and we were pleased to recognize two experiments, Mail Triage, which allows workers to quickly prioritize incoming e-mails, and Topika, which helps workers determine the best tool for collaboration, as they have the potential to help workers stem the tide."


IBM Research Third Quarter 2010 External Honors

External recognition demonstrates IBM Research's continuing contribution to the company and to the scientific community. Several researchers, past and present, were recognized during the quarter:

Member - Major Honorary Academy
  • Don Eigler: Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, 09/2010
Major Award/Medal/Prize
  • Phaedon Avouris: Pioneer Award, IEEE: Nanotechnology Council, 08/2010
  • Marion Ball: IMIA Award of Excellence, International Medical Informatics Association, 09/2010
  • Don Eigler: Kavli Prize for Nanoscience, Norwegian Academy of Science/Kavli Foundation, 09/2010
  • Alan Gara: Seymour Cray Computer Engineering Award, IEEE: Computer Society, 11/2010
Fellow - Science/Technology Societies
  • Tyrone Grandison: British Computer Society, 07/2010
President - Science/Technology Societies
  • Peter Haas: INFORMS Simulation Society, 07/2010
  • Peter Bak: VAST Challenge Award, IEEE Visual Analytics in Science and Technology, 10/2010
  • Josephine Cheng: Alumnus of the Year, UCLA, 11/2010
  • Craig Gentry: Privacy Enhancing Technologies Award, PET, 07/2010
  • Laura Haas: Technical Leadership Award, Anita Borg Institute, 09/2010
  • Prabhakar Kudva: IEEE Region 1 Award, For Outstanding Contributions to Design Automation of Digital Systems and Advances in Microprocessor Chip Resilience, IEEE, 09/2010
  • Tessa Lau: New Media IT Leadership Award, Women of Color, 10/2010
  • Ajay Royyuru: 2010 North American Technology Innovation of the Year Award in Biological Simulation Systems, Frost & Sullivan, 09/2010
  • Vladimir Zolotov: IEEE Region 1 Award, For Outstanding Contribution to Improving Design Reliability Using Statistical Timing Analysis, IEEE, 09/2010


Your personal assistant on the Web

Having a newfound dependency on the mobile web, internet users are increasingly looking for shortcuts and the easiest way to get things done. For example, our GPS devices automatically know where we are – providing us with driving directions instantly or the location of the nearest hamburger joint quickly – without having to think much about it. And now, IBM Research has taken web automation technologies one step further, with IBM CoScripter Conversational Interface: an Intelligent Assistant for interacting with the Web, nicknamed CoCo for this blog entry.

This new tool originated from CoScripter, a system for recording and automating repetitive activities on the web, such as paying a monthly credit card bill, requesting a vacation hold for postal mail, or checking flight arrival times. With CoCo, you can do all of this from your mobile device.

CoCo brings together web automation technologies - CoScripter and Highlight (http://www.almaden.ibm.com/cs/disciplines/user/#highlight) - making the web available to the user’s command through any simple text messaging interface. With this, users can, for example, send an SMS to CoCo and ask it to do something on the web, without actually being in front of a computer.

How does it work?

From a very high-level, the flow as seen in the picture is the following:
  • The user sends a message to CoCo via SMS, via e-mail or any other text messaging system
  • CoCo takes the message and looks through this user's CoScripter scripts for a match
  • When CoCo finds the script, it adds the necessary parameters from the user's command and then ships it for execution in a headless browser, running on Highlight
  • Highlight executes the user's CoScript and returns the relevant portions of the Web site navigated
  • CoCo sends the result back to the user via SMS, e-mail, etc.

Whenever there is a need for clarification or confirmation, CoCo can dialogue with the user to ask for additional information. In this way, CoCo becomes a communicative assistant with which you can talk to get computing tasks done.

Watch the video demonstration

IBM researchers Tessa Lau and Julian Ariel Cerruti presented this paper, "A Conversational Interface to Web Automation," at the 23rd ACM UIST Symposium in New York City on October 5. Co-authors are Guillermo Manzato, Mateo Bengualid, Jeffrey Bigham, and Jeffrey Nichols.