Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, VA, USA
- B. Tech in Electronics and Electrical Communications Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India (1980)
- M. S. in Electrical Engineering, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL (1982)
- Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (1985)
Supriyo is involved in research, teaching and other professional services.
Advice to Students:
Think outside the box, be creative and keep an open mind.
In which technical fields within Nanotechnology does your work apply best?
- Modeling and Simulation
Q: When did you first find that your career path focused on nanotechnology?
Bandyopadhyay: When I was a Ph.D. student at Purdue University in the mid-1980s, I was first exposed to nanotechnology while working on my Ph.D. dissertation. From then on, my career path focused on nanotechnology and has not deviated from that since then. I continued in that path during my entire academic career spanning over three decades.
Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?
Bandyopadhyay: I work in spintronics and nanomagnetic computing. Spintronics is the science and technology of using the quantum mechanical spins of electrons or other particles for storing, processing and communicating information. Nanomagnets are nothing but bodies that have a large number of electrons whose spins are aligned more or less along the same direction. Nanomagnets of particular shapes can be magnetized in only one of two directions and these two directions encode the binary bits 0 and 1 used in classical digital computing. Switching the magnetization between these two directions is equivalent to switching between the bits 0 and 1. If we use electrically generated mechanical strain to switch the nanomagnet’s magnetization, then it consumes very little energy compared to electronic switches and that is why nanomagnets can become the platform for very low energy computing. My collaborators and I coined the term “straintronics” to describe this paradigm and now it has caught on. The reason why we are interested in low energy computing is not for the sake of the environment (although that is an important consideration), nor for the cost of energy generation, but very simply, if we do not reduce the energy consumption in switching bits, our ability to pack more and more computing devices in a chip will be lost sooner or later. That would be a serious disaster. Straintronics can implement many other devices and systems, and not just digital switches for logic and memory applications. We have shown how it can implement artificial neurons, microwave oscillators, ternary content addressable memory, image processors, simulated annealers, extreme sub-wavelength acoustic and electromagnetic antennas, Bayesian inference engines, restricted Boltzmann machines, programmable correlators and anti-correlators for probabilistic computing, etc.
Q: What’s the most rewarding thing about working with nanotechnology?
Bandyopadhyay: The endless possibilities and the excitement of working with something that promises immense benefit for mankind is perhaps the most rewarding experience.
Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you’ve worked on has positively impacted the world?
Bandyopadhyay: My lab was instrumental in developing some self-assembly nanosynthesis techniques (techniques for making nanostructures by exploiting natural chemical and physical processes) that are widely used. It is a very inexpensive technology for fabricating nanostructures which would make nanotechnology accessible widely to even very resource-poor laboratories. This plays a role in the globalization of nanotechnology. We hold patents on room-temperature infrared photodetectors and novel memory elements, which were synthesized using this route. Many resource-starved labs can utilize these techniques to fabricate nanostructures and study their properties. After all, nanotechnology cannot be for the 1%; it must be for the 100%.
Q: In which areas do you anticipate future commercialization of nanotechnology having the greatest positive impact on the world?
Bandyopadhyay: I think the greatest positive impact will be in computing and communication, as well as medicine. These are important areas that can shape human civilization in the near future. Nanotechnology has already impacted these fields, but much more may be around the corner.
Q: What do you think is the single greatest impact nanotechnology has had on the world thus far?
Bandyopadhyay: It is impossible to single out any one particular application. Numerous applications have been made possible by the unique properties of nanostructures – in fields as diverse as medicine, computing, defense, climate change and materials.
Q: Over the past decade, nanotechnology has moved out of the lab and is making a real impact in society. Have you worked on any efforts that helped to commercialize nanotechnology and resulted in new products or processes?
Bandyopadhyay: I have not been involved with start-ups and do not serve as a technical adviser to any company, but I have been involved with technology transfers and have served as a consultant. I also have multiple patents (one licensed). I cannot identify any product in the market that has resulted solely from my work, but there may be products that have benefited from research carried out in my group.
Q: Did your university training help you in your nanotechnology work?
Bandyopadhyay: Yes. It would not be possible without it. Nanotechnology is not a discipline that evolved in vacuum. It is still very much based on basic physics, chemistry and mathematics. One learns the basic principles in college. Without a firm background in the fundamentals, there is little hope of making serious advances.
Q: Do you have a mentor? Did you in your college years?
Bandyopadhyay: I currently mentor others. I had a Masters and a Ph.D. adviser in college who certainly taught me a lot. One can do without a mentor, but having a mentor to guide and provide directions is immensely helpful for new entrants in the field.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on nanotechnology applications?
Bandyopadhyay: Most probably, yes. I have not had serious second thoughts. This is probably partly due to my unfamiliarity with other fields, so I do not really know if some other field has something much better to offer. However, I have continued to find new problems and new solutions in nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is not a static field and it evolves with time. As a university professor, I would not have been successful in obtaining grants if I did not adapt to new realities and new approaches. Fortunately, nanotechnology is so vast that it would be extremely unlikely that I will run out of ideas. Since nanotechnology offers such vast potential, I will almost certainly focus on nanotechnology if I were to do it all over again.
Q: If a high school or college student was interested in nanotechnology, what advice would you give them to help prepare take on those roles?
Bandyopadhyay: I have advised many such students. I have mentored many high-achieving high school students who have conducted research in my lab, published multiple journal papers with my graduate students and me, and won international science fair competitions. I have had high school students from under-represented groups learn nanotechnology in my lab. They synthesized nanostructures using high-school beaker chemistry and even learned how to image them using scanning electron microscopes. I tell all of them to think outside the box, be creative and keep an open mind. I also tell them to read a lot and find something that will interest them. Those that actually visit my lab get a tour and a small lecture on what our vision is. I will definitely advise students to contact an individual whose research she or he finds interesting. If the conversation proceeds to the point where there is serious mutual interest, then a visit to the researcher’s lab or discussions with her/his students to get an understanding of what is involved, is definitely the next step.