Pop honored with PECASE award

11/8/2010 11:17:00 AM

Eric Pop, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering (ECE), is one of 85 researches named by President Obama as a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

"Science and technology have long been at the core of America’s economic strength and global leadership," President Obama said. "I am confident that these individuals, who have shown such tremendous promise so early in their careers, will go on to make breakthroughs and discoveries that will continue to move our nation forward in the years ahead.”

Eric Pop
Eric Pop
The PECASE award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Ten Federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions.

Since joining the ECE faculty in 2007, Pop has assembled a team of 20 graduate, undergraduate, and post-doctoral researchers, and has become a favorite instructor among students. His research focuses on nanoscale transistors and memory elements utilizing graphene, carbon nanotubes, and phase-change materials, with the goal of making them significantly more energy-efficient than their silicon counterparts.

“In the past two decades the complexity of silicon integrated circuits has gone up a thousand-fold, but the energy use of individual transistors has not been proportionally reduced,” he said, noting that the next big challenge beyond Moore’s law is in power dissipation.

"This is why we are focusing on carbon electronics which have higher electrical and thermal conductivity than silicon, and could lead to more energy-efficient circuits, longer battery life, and so on.” Like silicon, carbon is an abundant element, whose unique properties could allow devices to operate at lower voltage and dissipate less heat.

“We have been able to demonstrate much lower power consumption in memory elements using carbon nanotube electrodes,” Pop said.

In late 2008, Pop and ECE graduate student Albert Liao also discovered a technique to double the current that could flow through a carbon nanotube to 40 microamps, while keeping the electric field and voltage relatively low. Higher current can mean higher operating speed, while low voltage would keep power dissipation under control.

“Albert, as part of his dissertation, is still trying to find the maximum amount of current able to flow through a single carbon nanotube molecule. We have reason to believe that 40 microamps is not a fundamental limit,” Pop said.

Since coming to Illinois, Pop’s work has been recognized with several major awards, including an NSF CAREER Award, the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, the Air Force Young Investigator Award, the DARPA Young Faculty Award, and two campus awards for advising and research.

He also really enjoys the campus environment, and the research facilities at the Micro and Nanotechnology Lab and the Materials Research Lab. In the classroom, Pop has been very active teaching ECE 440: Solid State Electronic Devices, a required course for all undergraduate ECE students, and a new graduate course ECE 598EP: Hot Chips.

The PECASE awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. Winning scientists and engineers have received research grants for up to five years to further their studies in support of critical government missions.

Contact: Eric Pop, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, 217/244-2070.

Rick Weiss, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, 202/456-6037.

Tom Moone, communications coordinator, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, 217/244-9893.

Writers: Rick Kubetz, Engineering Communications Office and Shawn Adderly, ECE ILLINOIS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.