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Materials for Neuromorphic Circuits

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MANIC (Materials for Neuromorphic Circuits)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-10-31

Nowadays, it is impossible to envision a major industrial, scientific or societal step forward without the role of advanced computing technology, including supercomputers. However, computer technology is demanding an increasing amount of energy. For example, today’s supercomputers consume more than 10 MW each which is equivalent to the electricity consumption of 30,000 households. Moreover, this number will only grow with the increasing developments of the Internet-of-things which requires a massive increase in computing device to enable front-end sensory systems to extract information from its collected data.

Therefore, the European Union, its international competitors (USA, Asia) and high-tech companies, like IBM, are investing considerable efforts into developing computing platforms, so-called neuromorphic computing, that will be able to emulate the human brain. Our brain can make more calculations per second than the fastest of supercomputers because of parallel processing: networks of neurons and synapses that are working simultaneously. And all this at a much lower power consumption of only 20 W, which is a fraction of the power needed by a supercomputer. To this end, there are efforts to emulate brain functions through novel architectures based on CMOS technology (silicon chips). The success of this approach has been made clear with the recent development of neuromorphic processors (TrueNorth by IBM, SpiNNaker and BrainScaleS by the HBP consortium or Loihi by Intel). The approach of MANIC is to look into alternatives to silicon in order to develop basic device units that are more fitting to the needs of cognitive-type processing than current transistors: the so-called memristive devices based on novel resistive switching materials. In the way to CMOS-free architechtures, it is also crucial to be able to combine CMOS circuits with memristive devices. These new materials will become the key elements in a new generation of electronic devices that will be able to adapt to software and enable efficient learning.
Period 1 of the Action has been mostly focused on setting up the management structure, the recruitment of the fellows and starting up the joint research and training programme. In addition, MANIC is able to report on the first scientific results. In that respect, the following results towards the objective of the Network have been achieved:
‒ A successful set-up of the management bodies and the management structure, with regular Management Team meetings and organization of Action Events, such as the Kick-Off Meeting and Network Wide Events (NWE).
‒ An open, transparent, merit-based, impartial and equitable recruitment procedure in line the principles of the ‘Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers’.
‒ MANIC has successfully set up Recruitment Committees (RCs) for the recruitment of the ESRs.
‒ Two Calls have been published on Euraxess and the MANIC website, and have been disseminated further via international paid/unpaid channels. Candidates were able to submit their application via the Virtual Portal.
‒ MANIC has been able to successfully select the desired number of 15 talented and motivated ESRs, who are a good match with the scientific programme of MANIC.
‒ The background of the selected ESRs is truly international, with 9 different nationalities represented, ranging from Germany and UK, to Philippines and China.
‒ Considering the strong competition in the recruitment of female candidates in natural sciences, we are pleased to have recruited 2 female ESRs.
‒ All ESRs have enrolled in the PhD programmes at their respective host institutions or partner institutions and have completed their 1st year Personal Career Development Plans.
‒ Several communication materials and channels have been developed, such as a project logo, project website and project social media accounts. Part of these have also been actively used in the recruitment procedure.
‒ The MANIC network has successfully planned for ethics management regarding the ethical issues identified for the MANIC project.
‒ Given the restrictions imposed through COVID-19 related measures, the progress of the Action is beyond our expectation and all ESR projects have started to our satisfaction which already resulted in significant progress on the scientific objectives set out at the start of the project.

Regarding he scientific progress MANIC is can could secure already very promising first results with all ESR projects that have started to our satisfaction. Importantly, the planned collaboration between individual ESR projects has been initiated as planned. As anticipated, the joint work on similar issues using competing approaches has already led to rather advanced scientific discussions among ESRs; the team of PIs of this project regards this as a confirmation on the original project goals. In task 3.1 ‘Single Synapses’ focusses on the fabrication and characterization of materials suitable for synaptic and neuronal functionality. Ferroic and ferroelectric material were made and characterized, including Barium Ferrite, Strontium Titanate, and Sr2Mg(BO3)2, Materials with metal-insulator-transition: NdNiO3 and VO2 and RRAM materials (e.g. TaOx/HfO2). Some of these materials were transferred toTask 3.2 ‘Self-assembled networks. In this task these materials were characterised in their circuit network context. The materials involved in Task 3.2 are Bismuth Ferrite, WO3, PTO, PGO and PZT. Finally, Task 3.3 ‘Circuit integration and learning’ deals with circuit design aspects with input from T3.1 and T3.2. The focus of experimental activities in this task on devices in this reporting period were on VO2-based relaxation oscillators, domain walls in LNO, ferroelectric tunnel junctions and CMOS circuits. In all of which promising results were already obtained.
MANIC is training 15 early stage researchers to experiment with new materials, bringing in materials scientists, physicists and chemists to work on the quest for neuromorphic circuits. They will work on materials that will accelerate technological advances towards computing platforms that work efficiently and flexibly without the current high energy demands, just like the human brain. Within the network, universities and world-leading companies are working together, thereby opening the possibility to bring innovation from the scientific community to the industrial world and vice versa in order to have direct impact in the society.