Australian chip design may find aliens

Australian chip design may find aliens

Summary: A research collaboration between La Trobe University's Centre for Technology Infusion (CTI), Peregrine Semiconductor Australia (PSA) and the CSIRO's Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) have come up with a new chip design they hope will be integrated into the world's largest radio telescope.

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TOPICS: Processors
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A research collaboration between La Trobe University's Centre for Technology Infusion (CTI), Peregrine Semiconductor Australia (PSA) and the CSIRO's Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) have come up with a new chip design they hope will be integrated into the world's largest radio telescope.

The chip is currently undergoing testing at the CSIRO's ATNF facilities at Marsfield, in the hope of becoming part of the Square Kilometre Array, a 1.8 billion dollar science project that will be the world's first global radio telescope.

With construction scheduled to begin in 2011, the Square Kilometre Array is a telescope designed to pick up radio signals from space. With a total receiver area of one square kilometre, it will easily be the most sensitive radio telescope ever built.

The telescope was designed to looks for traces of the big bang, pulsars, magnetic fields, black holes, dark matter and even extraterrestrial life.

The chip was specifically designed to be fitted to the front end of hundreds of super-sensitive radio receiver circuits that amplify cosmic signals. According to Professor Jack Singh, Director of La Trobe University's Centre for Technology Infusion, designing the chip was a considerable engineering challenge.

"The big challenge [was] to overcome the inherent noise in an integrated circuit, and to produce an amplifier with the lowest noise possible, with broad frequency band and high gain," he said.

Dr Hai (Harris) Le, Project Manager and Chief Designer, holding the microchip on a ballpoint pen.
Credit: Kalli Karvelas

In order to overcome this, the La Trobe research team used the Ultra CMOS process, which involves using very high-linearity, high-speed transistors. The design process took three months, after which the chip was fabricated at Peregrine's foundries in Australia and the US.

According to Andrew Brawley of Peregrine Semiconductor Australia, the chip will not only serve as a prototype for developing a world-leading integrated receiver design -- but may also aid in quantum computer research due to its ability to operate at millikelvin temperatures.

Current silicon based quantum computer technologies are designed to integrate with existing silicon chips, but such quantum circuits operate at temperatures as low as a fraction of a Kelvin, colder than deep space. This is because such quantum circuits "decohere", with even the slightest piece of electromagnetic or thermal noise.

Topic: Processors

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6 comments
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  • Aussies lead the way

    Australia is a step ahead of the rest of the world, so much research is being put into so many areas of science, their research on celiac disease can't be beat. This is further proof of cash well spent, well done Aussies :)
    anonymous
  • Yes... well done

    Yes, with almost none of the science budget of the US and the EU, and one university in the top 20, "we" as Australians, miraculously lead the world in such fields as SCRAMJet research, Quantum IT and Radio Astronomy. Obviously.

    Hey, I'm in we! And I'm so bloody proud I could crack open another tinny.

    These parochial, self-congratulatory puff-pieces are an embarassment to all Australians, especially the researchers whose hard work is trivialised with childish, nationalistic associations.

    Yes, Australia is at the grown-ups table. Why can't we ditch the kiddy chair?
    anonymous
  • Yes... well done

    Yes, with almost none of the science budget of the US and the EU, and one university in the top 20, "we" as Australians, miraculously lead the world in such fields as SCRAMJet research, Quantum IT and Radio Astronomy. Obviously.

    Hey, I'm in we! And I'm so bloody proud I could crack open another tinny.

    These parochial, self-congratulatory puff-pieces are an embarassment to all Australians, especially the researchers whose hard work is trivialised with childish, nationalistic associations.

    Yes, Australia is at the grown-ups table. Why can't we ditch the kiddy chair?
    anonymous
  • Awesome

    Australia never ceases to amaze me. But I think they could have used their budget for something else more useful... Like saving the Earth from... GLOBAL WARMING!!!!!
    anonymous
  • Aliens scedueled to land.

    The date of the chip being constructed is one year off the year 2012 which is the year aliens are suposed to contact the earth.
    anonymous
  • Exactly Mr Prowler!

    With Global warming doom imminent (I mean, the scientists say 90% of the ice caps are gone already, that 10% is going to be killer >.<) we need to be able to build one giant mobile phone, jump on it, and tell those aliens to move their asses and invade ASAP! I'm not evolving into no sea creature because of global warming! =P
    anonymous