University of Nottingham Ningbo China
Research and Business
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Inspiring people

Jim Greer
Making chips smarter and cheaper
Li Dak Sum Chair in Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices
greer-profile
Can you explain your research?
My area of expertise is microchips; things that drive computers and consumer electronics like mobile phones and televisions. In the next 10 to 15 years we expect to see greater inter-connectivity and many more mobile applications. To continue reducing costs and increase function, chips need to be smaller. Now only a few hundred atoms across, the tiny switches that make up a chip can't be scaled down in size much further without it becoming prohibitively expensive for microchip manufacturers. A typical factory for making microchips can cost about US$10bn. Cost is therefore a big challenge in the industry, and my research is looking at other options to make chips smarter and cheaper. Just as skyscrapers are the answer to a land shortage in real estate; I believe we will also go vertical in microchips, stacking them to achieve more cost reduction and functionality.
It's a critical element in the evolution of the Internet of Things and interconnected technologies.
Where do you see this research heading in the future?
I see the research changing in different ways. In the short-term it’s about getting more intelligence onto a single chip. A few decades ago when we just had PCs, they only needed to do a few things. But now we have mobile phones, we need them to work harder on a huge range of applications; from measuring respiratory rates to locating friends in our immediate vicinity. This requires sensing — optical sensors, chemical sensors, all sorts of things that know what’s happening in the environment. These are integrated with the electronics on the chip that can communicate with the 'Cloud', which in turn will do the number crunching and return that information back to the chip. It's a critical element in the evolution of the Internet of Things and interconnected technologies.
Can you talk about your research in the context of Ningbo?
I am always looking for new challenges and my work has taken me all over the world. I grew up in Texas and worked in the semi-conductor industry in the US and then Japan. My research career took me to Germany and Ireland for many years. My research relates to the micro-electronics industry, particularly semi-conductors, which is an area China has invested heavily in lately. New high-tech companies are moving to cities like Ningbo at the time and it is becoming something of an industrial hub for semi-conductors. This offers a lot of exciting opportunities for me in China. It is a key reason for me joining the University of Nottingham in Ningbo.
How does the University of Nottingham in Ningbo China support your research?
I’m a new arrival to the University and they are helping me to understand the funding environment within China, which is very important to maintain a research programme. I have been provided extra students and staff and the facilities to get a research project up and running.
When you have a Nobel Laureate telling you that you're on the right track, that's a very gratifying feeling.
What is the greatest moment in your career so far?
I once had the pleasure of having dinner with Walter Kohn. He was a Nobel Laureate in electronic structure theory, which is my area. He was also the PhD student of a very famous scientist named Julian Schwinger, who was also a Nobel Laureate. I had the pleasure of discussing my research with Walter and mentioned how my work had recently been criticised by people who hadn't quite understood it. He reassured me that my research was building on something that he had done on his PhD thesis and he felt it was on very firm ground. When you have a Nobel Laureate telling you that you're on the right track, that's a very gratifying feeling.