TI and MIT collaborate on researching material that could be the next big thing that powers devices – including yours.

TI and MIT collaborate on researching material that could be the next big thing that powers devices – including yours.

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Imagine a charger that powers your laptop – but it’s the size of a cell phone charger. It’s smaller and lighter, but still packs the same power punch. This is just one way that new material being researched today could save energy – and impact your life.

TI has been working with students and professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the use of the material gallium nitride (GaN) in powering devices in homes and offices, to name a few areas of use. “Everyone hopes it’s the next new material for power devices,” says Dave Freeman, a TI Fellow and chief technologist for power supply solutions in analog. “Right now, it has some attractive features, but there are some challenges with it.”

Those challenges are what Freeman and other TIers have been working on, with the help of MIT students and professors. The material could help reduce the power loss– while reducing the total size of the circuit solution (it can run at a higher frequency, which would reduce the size of components). In other words, it could create high-power chargers that are small in size.

“It translates to an enormous amount of power saving,” says Saurav Bandyopadhyay, who did research on the material while pursuing his PhD at MIT. Bandyopadhyay started working on GaN studies during his second TI internship in the summer of 2011. The excitement behind the material had just sparked, and Bandyopadhyay spent time in TI’s research facility Kilby Labs, studying GaN’s potential in solid-state lighting.

His goal was to create a more efficient driver (or the device that powers LEDs) using a GaN transistor. “I was trying to come up with circuits that could do this efficiently,” Bandyopadhyay says. “I was working on the proof-of-concept to verify that it could be done. The goal was to make a product that people will actually use.”

At the end of the summer, he headed back to MIT to continue his research. “Everything I did at Kilby Labs was used later, and gave me an idea of what could and couldn’t be done,” he says. Working with Anantha Chandrakasan, head of MIT’s electrical engineering and computer science department and a pioneer on energy efficient circuits and systems, Bandyopadhyay successfully designed an efficient driver. It’s a final product that he applied to his thesis in order to earn his PhD (he just received his degree last week). He has published his study at International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC 2013), in San Francisco in February 2013.

“This was a new project and a new direction for me,” Bandyopadhyay says. “It was a really great learning experience. I was exposed to different devices and new concepts. It’s one thing to learn it in school, but when you have to build something in the lab, the concepts get instilled deeper. Book knowledge is one thing; implementing it is another.”

His project is, however, just the beginning -- many students and researchers are studying other ways GaN can be used (for instance, another MIT student Dina El-Damak spent time at TI researching  integrated high voltage isolated power that can be used as part of the GaN ecosystem).

“I’m hoping to look at applications other than energy drivers,” says Bandyopadhyay, who just joined TI full-time. “The device has a lot to offer, and in order to get the full benefit, there are a lot of other things that need to be done.”