Vanderbilt engineers lead world forum on electronics-damaging radiation

Your iPod may be a fine example of technical wizardry, but it’s no match for a cosmic ray.

That’s not a hypothetical problem or even peculiar to iPods. A random cosmic ray can shut down a whole computer system if it hits just right, and even background radiation can cause computer systems to falter.

Cosmic rays and other types of radiation from the sun, other stars-as well as from ordinary items like the ground-are big problems to increasingly tiny computer circuitry. Multiply that radiation-sensitivity many times over for computer systems used in space, in equipment such as in satellites, on the space shuttle, or in the International Space Station.

As might be expected, Vanderbilt engineers are on top of this problem. From July 17-21, more than 30 Vanderbilt faculty members, students, and engineers joined scientists and engineers from all over the globe in Ponte Vedre Beach, Fla., in examining possible solutions.

“The Nuclear and Space Radiation Effects Conference is a focal point for presenting the results of our research and getting new ideas for future work,” said Ron Schrimpf, EECS Professor and Director of Vanderbilt’s Institute for Space and Defense Electronics. Schrimpf chaired the Steering Committee responsible for supervising the NSREC.

It might not sound elementary, but “Modeling the Space Radiation Environment and Effects on Microelectronic Devices and Circuits” was the equivalent of Radiation Effects 101 for the conferees this year. Vanderbilt’s Robert Reed, research associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, helped introduce engineers new to the field through this short course, presented the first day of the conference.

Reed’s course helped engineers understand how radiation interacts with matter and how engineers model the space environment to predict how radiation affects integrated circuits. Reed formerly served as a research physicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
He was assisted by Vanderbilt research engineers Jeffrey D. Black and W. Timothy Holman, who explained how to perform computer simulations to analyze single events (such as cosmic rays) in integrated circuits.

Vanderbilt Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering Bharat Bhuva chaired one of the nine technical sessions at the conference. His session was on “Hardness by Design,” which examined ways to design computer devices so that they are resilient to radiation and can recover from radiation damage without losing functionality.

Throughout the conference, Vanderbilt engineers presented 20 of the
109 technical papers presented at the conference. They also participated in the Radiation Effects Data Workshop.

Vanderbilt Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering Lloyd Massengill will chair next year’s conference, to be held July 23 – 27 in Honolulu. Professor of Electrical Engineering and Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Dan Fleetwood was installed as the new Executive Vice Chairman of the Radiation Effects Steering Group that oversees the conference.

ISDE is part of the Radiation-Effects Group at Vanderbilt, which is the largest program of its kind in the U.S. and is the only academic program actively involved in support of the U.S.
Department of Defense in analyzing radiation effects for strategic applications.


Nuclear and Space Radiation Effects Conference Ronald Schrimpf Institute for Space and Defense Electronics