Eby Friedman, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Rochester and one of the world's top integrated circuit designers, has received a Fulbright fellowship and been named a fellow of IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Well known among the elite designers of the world's fastest computer chips, Friedman had a hand in the design of Intel's groundbreaking gigahertz computer chip released earlier this year. The product was Intel's first chip to perform calculations at one billion times per second, more than 150 times faster than the first Pentium chips introduced just a few years ago.
Friedman leads a group of a dozen researchers in the University's Laboratory for High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design, where engineers solve many of the problems associated with designing high-speed computer chips. One area of interest is "clock distribution networks," which involves synchronizing the timing of millions of data signals flowing around on a chip such that each signal arrives at the right place at the right time, hundreds of millions of times each second. The entire system depends on sending out electronic pulses that arrive at thousands of different points on a chip at exactly the right moment. A typical computer chip, the size of a child's fingernail, is packed with 50 million transistors and 100,000 registers that produce their calculations correctly only if the "clock pulse" arrives exactly when it should. The timing is crucial, and Friedman has come up with novel ways to make chips faster by varying the pulses according to the timing of the signals.
"This is all about getting the right signal where you want it, when you want it," says Friedman. It's a little bit like sending 100,000 different cabbies, helicopter pilots, airline pilots, and motorcycle policemen to very different places in Manhattan simultaneously. Each person is equipped with precise instructions that only a single recipient can understand, and they all must get to their destinations at the right time, or all of Manhattan grinds to a halt. Then they have to do it again, and again, and again, a billion times each second.
Friedman is also an expert on a chip's interconnects, the sliver-thin linkages through which data on a chip flows from location to location. These interconnects are another potential source of delay. "If you think of information as water, then these interconnects are like pipes; we're trying to squeeze more and more water through thinner and thinner pipes, faster and faster," says Friedman, who is developing new ways to keep the information from leaking from one "pipe" to the next.
In the Rochester area, Friedman has worked with Xerox Corp. to improve the electronic circuitry within a line of ink-jet printers, and with Eastman Kodak Co. to design its digital cameras. He also directs the Center for Electronic Imaging Systems (CEIS), which is funded by New York State; at the center, scientists and engineers from academe and industry work together on such technologies as medical imaging and image compression. Friedman also served as doctoral adviser to University alumnus Tolga Soyata, founder of Soyata Computers.
Friedman serves as a frequent consultant to industry, and receives research support from Intel, Eastman Kodak, Xerox, IBM, Lucent Technologies, the Semiconductor Research Corp., and the National Science Foundation. His research team forms one of the nation's leading academic groups in high-performance integrated circuit design, and each year his students are recruited heavily by chip design companies and research universities eager to hire that year's top talent.
A native of Jersey City, N.J., Friedman earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and his master's and doctorate from the University of California at Irvine. After working with Hughes Aircraft Co., where he helped to design a number of high-performance electronic systems for the U.S. military, Friedman joined the University in 1991. He has published more than 140 scientific papers, authored or edited four books, and serves on the editorial board of several journals. He will use the Fulbright award to teach a graduate course and to develop a research capability in high-performance integrated circuits at the Technion in Israel next year.