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Tech Transfer Program Success Stories

Tech Transfer Success Stories | Feb. 23, 2024

NSA Lab Partners with University of Notre Dame to Develop Specialized Microelectronics for Future High Performance Computers

FORT MEADE, Md. - A team from NSA’s Laboratory for Physical Sciences (LPS) office recently partnered with the University of Notre Dame (UND) through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) facilitated by the Office of Research and Technology Applications (ORTA). This partnership aims to advance research that could one day lead to the creation of new energy-efficient, high-speed computing devices that are critical to future NSA and government high performance computing needs.

Societal demand for smaller computers and cellphones have pushed demand for smaller electronics with more robust and efficient processing power. Improvements in device performance are quickly reaching size and power limits, severely limiting the rate of development; however, demand for more processing power and efficiency continues to grow.

“Silicon devices are reaching the limits of what they can do physically; you can’t make them any smaller. If we want to have faster, more efficient, more complex, denser devices for NSA computing needs, then we’re going to need to go to another paradigm,” said Adam F., technical director of LPS’s Advanced Manufacturing and Sensing office.

That challenge has led Adam F. and a team of researchers from LPS – Greg S., Nicholas B., and Aubrey H. –to begin research into new classes of materials that can be used in place of silicon, which he states makes up almost “90% of all electronics.”

Through this ORTA partnership, staff from LPS worked with UND professor Badih Assaf, a world-renowned expert on chemically growing microelectronics, by building them in thin layers in an extremely controlled environment. Professor Assaf is one of few experts in the world who has been able to grow these unique materials suitable for use in specialized topological magnetoelectronic transistor (TMET) devices. These devices may potentially lead to improved performance and efficiency in future electronic devices.

“NSA gets access to one of the best, most-forward-thinking materials growers in the world whose materials are simply available nowhere else,” Adam said. “Professor Assaf has access to one of the most well-equipped, agile, and capable device fabrication and characterization teams in the country, which we proudly support in our College Park facility.”

While this technology is in early development, Adam acknowledges that future advancements could one day lead to partnerships with companies that would “commercially produce these devices”, perhaps leading to faster, more efficient consumer computers, appliances, cellphones, and other electronics.

“TMET device technology is of great promise to keeping us ahead of advancing technology,” says Adam. “It is essential to partner with academics on the leading-edge of materials growth who can deliver exactly the materials that we need to make [these advancements] a reality.”

Testing takes place in the lab continually 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine the behavior and performance of the lab-grown devices and structures. Throughout that time, LPS will share results with UND and recommend changes to the material’s growth parameters, allowing the team to refine production and testing on these new materials needed to fabricate, test, and demonstrate improved TMET devices that can be used across government, industry, and academia.

“This new research collaboration exemplifies the powerful partnering capabilities enabled through CRADAs,” said ORTA director Linda Burger. “World-class researchers at NSA and UND are able to experiment and advance science together for the benefit of our national security mission.”

NSA ORTA establishes partnerships with industry, academia, and other government agencies to help accelerate mission goals, advance science, foster innovation, and promote technology commercialization. Learn more about the Agency’s Technology Transfer Program at