URI research to assist NASA in studying origins of the universe

SUNGHO KIM, an assistant professor of electrical, computer and biomedical engineering at the University of Rhode Island, is leading a research team working to develop miniature semiconductor chips to support NASA research on the universe's origins. / COURTESY NORA LEWIS

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Micro-sized technology under development by University of Rhode Island researchers may have a massive impact on a NASA telescope designed to study the universe’s origins.

Sungho Kim, an assistant professor of electrical, computer and biomedical engineering at URI, is leading a research team working to develop miniature semiconductor chips to power a telescope that NASA scientists say can provide a window into the universe as it existed 13.7 billion years ago.

Current semiconductors, which act as electricity conductors, and sometimes insulators, are too “bulky” and “power-hungry” to withstand outer space, Kim says.

“The problem is the space environment is not friendly to electronics,” Kim said. “On Earth, our electronics are protected from radiation by the atmosphere.”

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While a typical semiconductor chip measures 1 meter by 1 meter, Kim’s team is developing units at a fraction of that size, at around 4 millimeters by 4 millimeters. This compact size will make the technology more resistant to radiation, Kim says, among other benefits.

“In space, smaller is better and usually more durable,” Kim said. “These require much less power, and that is important since electrical energy is limited in space. The only source is solar power.”

Kim is no stranger to NASA, having previously worked for the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

NASA has provided the research team with a three-year, $1.2 million grant.

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.

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