UA Leads Multi-University Team in Optical Computing Research

Mark Neifeld leads a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative team in examining how optical technology can be used to advance computing speed and power.

Overcoming limitations in digital electronic computing will likely involve creative solutions, especially when it comes to big-data tasks in science, health care, business and defense. 

With a recent $7.5 million U.S. Department of Defense award, electrical and computer engineering professor Mark Neifeld, who has a joint appointment in Optical Sciences, is leading a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, or MURI, project to help find those solutions. The team is examining how optical technology can be used to advance computing speed and power. 

“Current digital electronic computing technology is reaching its limits in cost and capacity,” said Neifeld, “and alternatives are needed to solve these problems.”

Optics in computing allows for higher bandwidth and massive parallelism, or many processors working in conjunction to perform a set of computations, Neifeld explained, making it a better option for handling some of the more complex computing tasks, such as weather prediction and biological process modeling. 

Joining Neifeld, the principal investigator on the project, are researchers from the University of California, at Berkley, San Diego and Los Angeles, as well as UA Optical Sciences professor Nasser Peyghambarian. Over the next five years, the team will identify pressing computing problems that could benefit from optical computing and develop new hybrid computer architectures that use both optical and electronic technologies. 

“Nationally, these are competitive awards,” said Tamal Bose, ECE department head. “The fact that we have a leadership position on such a prestigious team speaks of the quality of our faculty in ECE.”

University of Arizona College of Engineering