When it comes to power electronics, the Office of Naval Research takes a page from a popular Daft Punk song: make them “better, faster and stronger.”

Enter Yuhao Zhang, assistant professor at the Center for Power Electronics Systems and the first Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty in seven years to receive the Office of Naval Research's Young Investigator award

To help develop the low-cost and efficient power devices, Zhang will build off cutting edge research on multidimensional device architecture, including his own

Architecture, or the layout and design of a semiconductor device, is one of two key components in the performance of power devices. The other is the semiconductor material. Multidimensional architecture refers to multiple layers and 3D structures combined into a powerful semiconductor cityscape — an advanced form of the original one-dimensional semiconductor.

Zhang will utilize two different design structures: multichannel gallium nitride and super junction. Gallium nitride may sound like a wizard’s spell, but it’s actually a very common semiconductor in light-emitting diodes, also known as LEDs, and can handle high temperatures and high power.

A super junction semiconductor uses vertical sets of positive-negative junctions – the building blocks of semiconductor devices – to create a high flow of electricity with little resistance and high blocking voltage.

He’ll narrow his research to understand how these multidimensional devices perform under extreme conditions, such as very high currents, high temperatures, and strong electrical fields in addition to studying performance during the nanosecond transition switching, or the miniscule time period when the device is neither “on” nor “off.” 

Over the course of the three-year project, Zhang will work closely with the Naval Research Laboratory, which recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary and is one of the nation’s oldest laboratories. Zhang’s project, “Switching dynamics and reliability physics of multidimensional power devices,” will receive about $750,000 in funding over the course of the three years.

“This project aims at discovering new device physics that could link nanoscale material and interface properties to 3D device electrostatics and further to circuit dynamics,” said Zhang. “We’re also expecting to establish a scientific knowledge base regarding electronic devices for a variety of naval applications, such as power propulsion, communication, sensing, and computation.”

As a 2024 recipient, Zhang joins the ranks of Young Investigators in the College of Engineering, including Yao Fu, Michael Bartlett and Eric Jacques

Zhang received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award for medium-voltage power devices, and is also the lead principal investigator on the $1.5 million grant from NSF’s electrical, communications, and cyber systems flagship program, ASCENT. He was recently named one of 100 People to Meet in 2024: Innovators by Virginia Business.

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