In 2007 the European Research Council (ERC) began funding frontier research projects through
The grants are split into several
categories including consolidator grants, which target world-class mid-career scientists. In 2015 the ERC awarded a
total of €585 million, as part of the European Union Research and Innovation
programme Horizon 2020 with grants worth millions of Euro each.
Nine IBM scientists in Zurich currently hold ERC grants and three have been
recently awarded to Abu
Moselund and Leo
Sebastian, who is based in Zurich, is focused on exploratory memory and
cognitive technologies and his grant will focus on investigating resistive
memory and its applications in non-von Neumann computing.
Before the hard work begins I asked him about the grant and his specific plans.
|Abu Sebastian (bottom left) said the support of his colleagues, including (clockwise) Tomas Tuma, Wabe Koelmans, and Manuel Le Gallo-Bourdeau was an important factor in winning |
the ERC grant.
Q. Resistive memory devices are being developed by
several organizations around the world. Can you explain what makes your memory
Abu Sebastian (AS): Resistive memory devices are nanoscale devices whose resistance depends
on the history of the current that had previously flowed through it.
We can store information in these decides using the resistance as the
storage variable, much like using the charge state of a capacitor to store
information in DRAM and Flash.
These devices also possess other
interesting attributes that go beyond information storage. It is believed that
they could have a significant influence on future computing systems.
| Large networks of resistive memory devices could play a |
central role in future non-von Neumann computing systems.
Therefore, it is not surprising that several research institutions
are conducting research in this field. I should note that phase change memory is a type of resistive memory
that we have been researching at IBM for nearly a decade.
In conventional resistive memory devices, the physical mechanism of resistance
storage is coupled to the information-retrieval process. For example, in a
phase change memory device, we use the same material for writing information,
by making it undergo a phase transition, and for retrieving the information
stored, by reading its low-field electrical resistance. In a projected memory device, this coupling is broken
down by a careful design of the device geometry. This could lead to a dramatic
improvement in its performance. This approach could also open up new
In the ERC project, we will explore certain highly innovative
projected memory designs and their applications in non-von Neumann computing
where there is no physical separation between between the central processing
unit (CPU) and the memory.
application is split into three parts. What are the time frames for each?
AS: Two of them focus more on the technology side of the
project, where we investigate the design and fabrication of projected memory
devices, and one on the algorithmic side, where we focus on applications. My
guess is that these two aspects of the project will consume an equal amount of
time and resources. I am hoping that, since it is an ERC project, there will be
a certain amount of leeway in the execution of the project.
Q. What impact will this technology have on society?
I mentioned earlier, resistive memory devices could have a dramatic impact on
future computing systems, in particular on cognitive computing: the third era
of computing where we derive insights and intelligence from the vast amount of
data at our disposal. Resistive memory devices could play a critical role
either as an ultra-fast, ultra-dense non-volatile cache memory or even as
elements of non-von Neumann processers or co-processors. It is believed that
the new concepts being pursued in the project could help make some key steps in
Q. I believe you are looking to build up a team with your grant.
What skills are you looking for?
emphasis will be on assembling a very competent research team with highly
multi-disciplinary skills. The team as a whole will have competence all the way
from physical sciences to the area of “mathematical engineering” – a term
coined by the famous mathematician Norbert Wiener to cover the areas of signal
processing, information theory, control, computation etc. Luckily at IBM we
already have some very good resources to tap into. To fill any gaps, we will
hire a few additional postdocs and students. If anyone is interested
in applying please email me.
Q. What advice do you have for future ERC applicants?
AS: The ERC application process was indeed a great learning
experience. There are several pieces of advice I could give to potential
applicants. But if I have to focus on 2 or 3, they would be the following ones:
sure the proposed project falls into the high risk/high reward
fully committed to the effort. It is quite an ordeal and demands
as much help as possible. In my case. I got significant help from my
colleagues, in particular Tomas Tuma and Wabe Koelmans. I also received advice and
guidance from people outside my immediate research area who are also ERC grant
winners including Govind Kaigala and Kirsten Moselund. Not to mention Catherine Trachsel, from our business development
team at ZRL, Charlotte Bolliger from the publication team, and also Euresearch,
the Swiss entity providing advice on European research programs.
Labels: awards, ERC, EU Horizon2020, European Research Council, IBM Research - Zurich, PCM, phase change memory