Yale Electrical Engineering Department chairman Tso Ping Ma has been named the recipient of the 2005 Andrew S. Grove Award for his research and contributions to the field of gate dielectrics, which allowed for the development of cheaper and faster microchips.

Ma will receive the award, presented by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, at the International Electron Device Meeting held in Washington, D.C. in December 2005. The highly prestigious honor in the field consists of a bronze medal, a certificate and an honorarium of $10,000.

Ma has conducted engineering research for nearly four decades, and his award-winning project in gate dielectrics commenced in 1992. Gate dielectrics is present in all major electronic chips and is described by Ma as “the critical part of a transistor.”

“This research is something that solved a problem that we foresaw in 1992. In the semiconductor industry, the golden rule is that the chips in transistors will increase their density by four times every three years,” Ma said.

This golden rule is a contribution of Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel. As consequence of this law, transistors on chips must get smaller and smaller so that their density increases every three years. Since chips and transistors are constant in price, the result is more cost efficient computers and electronics.

“This is the self-fulfilling prophecy of the semiconductor industry,” Ma said. “We can cram more chips in there and at the same time make them less expensive. The problem in the early 90s, however, was how we were going to do this.”

In the 1960s, when transistors were starting at a size of about 100 nanometers, engineers were able to reduce their size every three years. However, when the size of transistors decreased to the molecular level, a challenge arose in the field of electrical engineering that could not be solved with existing techniques, Ma said.

“In 1992, we realized that these transistors were going to have to be about 10 Angstroms thick, which is down to molecular dimensions,” Ma said. “The task was daunting, almost seemingly impossible. We ran out of commercial materials to make something that small, so we turned to silicon dioxide.”

Ma used the silicone dioxide to form the dielectric gate. A dielectric is the insulator on a chip controlling the flow of electric charge in the transistor and ensures that there are no errors in the chip’s signals.

The research is hailed as both an advancement for the semiconductor industry and for the world of science and technology.

“Our semiconductor research is similar to that going on in the industrial sector,” Dechao Guo GRD ’08 said. “Dr. Ma’s research will add to industry and will be a step for industry to be able to continue successfully. It is useful to our knowledge of engineering, but especially important in order to keep the industry going.”

The undergraduate engineering population expressed similar opinions about Ma’s research.

“As members of Yale’s IEEE chapter we are honored to be associated to T.P. Ma,” said Jose Fuentes ’06, vice chairman of the Yale chapter. “We hope to collaborate with him more in the future to bring unifying activities to Yale’s electrical engineering community. The IEEE’s Andrew S. Grove award can only begin to recognize his achievements as not only a researcher, but also as a passionate teacher.”

The IEEE is the largest organization of professionals in the electrical engineering field. It has more than 360,000 members in approximately 175 countries and is divided into 37 societies. Ma is a member of the Electron Device Society.