Carbon Pillars Power Microbatteries

California researchers close in on chip-scale energy

2 min read

There is no Moore's Law for batteries, but that doesn't mean you can't apply the same advances that have yielded increasingly powerful computer chips to the problem of powering those chips. This month, Marc Madou, a microelectromechanical systems expert at the University of California, Irvine, and his collaborators plan to demonstrate powerful chip-scale batteries made using techniques borrowed largely from semiconductor manufacturing. The inventors say the resulting microbatteries, capable of delivering an intense burst of electricity or a steady flow of relatively low current, would be suitable for many applications, including sensors, cellphones, hearing aids, and cardiac defibrillators. "You could use it for all types of tiny electronic gadgets," Madou says.

Batteries generate electricity through a chemical reaction in which an electrolyte ferries ions between a pair of electrodes: the positively charged anode and the negatively charged cathode. The amount of current generated depends on how much of the chemical reaction takes place--which depends on both the surface area of the electrodes and the volume of the battery's electrolyte. The more surface area there is, the more current can be generated within the same volume. That presents a fundamental challenge for small batteries, which have neither expansive electrodes nor large volumes of electrolyte.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.

Avicena

If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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