VU Space-Defense institute growing on Music Row
By Milt Capps
Published Monday, July 6, 2009 8:22 am
There's intense global scrutiny of effects of radiation on microelectronics in space and on Earth.
Vanderbilt University's Institute for Space and Defense Electronics anticipates further growth after its impending relocation to Music Row.
ISDE Director Ron Schrimpf, Ph.D. (at right), told VNC in a recent interview that the institute is the world's leading academic center for study of radiation effects on computers and other electronics.
ISDE now earns more than $5 million each year from customers and sponsors that include NASA, the U.S. Navy and Air Force, Medtronic, Cisco, Boeing, Texas Instruments, AMD and others.
Soon, ISDE will have a larger home to accommodate faculty and staff who face rising demand for their services from government and industry.
Around Labor Day, when ISDE relocates to new offices at 1025 16th Avenue South, the institute will be able to accommodate faculty and staff who may be added to augment ISDE's current roster of ten full-time faculty, 15 full-time engineers and two-dozen or more graduate students.
Schrimpf noted that while competition for top talent is fierce among academic institutions, he has found that – coupled with ISDE's reputation as "the best" in its field – ISDE's location in Nashville is often viewed as an advantage by sought-after professors and engineers, particularly those who have already done a stint in Silicon Valley, or who don't want the lifestyle associated with the nation's tech hotbeds.
As reported earlier by VNC, ISDE and the Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS) – with their combined 130 personnel – will soon jointly occupy the $6.1 million Music Row building, for which the VU School of Engineering is mortgagee.
ISDE will occupy about 11,000 square feet of lab, office and conference space, in contrast to less than 5,000 sq. ft. it has had in maze-like facilities in the Center Building on Broadway.
ISDE is a contract-engineering services unit that was created nearly seven years ago by scientists in Vanderbilt's 22-year-old Radiation Effects Group. The institute serves to apply knowledge flowing from VU research toward solving practical problems, while gaining real-world feedback.
Schrimpf said ISDE's closest competitors for the radiation-effects leadership role include organizations at Georgia Institute of Technology, Arizona State University and, in France, the University of Montpellier. In addition, Schrimpf said, there are "large and strong rad effects programs," with complementary missions run by government entities at Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.; and, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque.
Whether on the ground or beyond Earth's atmosphere, radiation can deposit an unwanted charges on data residing in the form of electrical charges on storage devices, producing errors, as info-bits' charges "flip" between 1's and zeroes.
ISDE faculty and staff help design and evaluate electronic components and systems for use in space and on earth, in the interest of improving the survivability and performance of these electronics in harsh environments. The research requires in-depth understanding of both radiation and microelectronics, including semiconductors, circuit design, thin films, radiation physics, and manufacturing.
Schrimpf said ISDE research and testing encompass "anything and everything" associated with electronics, "from the atomic level" up to "design and evaluation of integrated circuits" and the boards on which those circuits reside. He noted that work now underway is likely to produce approaches to testing and simulations that will yield an "unprecedented level of accuracy" in predicting the survivability of parts.
Among other things, ISDE develops and uses simulation tools that are "aware" of radiation and which can gauge or predict harmful radiation effects on devices or systems. ♦