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Pioneer in nano-transistors has Alexandria roots

If you could look inside your cell phone, you’d see billions of transistors and complex technology that an Alexandria graduate helped develop.

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Alexandria native Mark Lundstrom recently received the University of Minnesota Outstanding Achievement Award at the annual College of Science and Engineering’s leadership banquet.

Mark Lundstrom, professor“It is a tremendous honor,” he said. “I teach at Purdue now, and we also give awards to outstanding alumni. It’s always inspiring to hear what they say, how they credit the education they received at the university with their subsequent success...I felt the same way when the U recognized me.”

Lundstrom graduated from Jefferson High School in 1969 and his mother, Donna Mae Lundstrom, lives in Alexandria.

Lundstrom is currently the Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University.

Lundstrom specializes in semiconductor device physics, modeling and simulation with a focus on the physics and limits of nanotransistors.

What does that mean?

He explained: “I work on electronic devices; mostly transistors, which are the basic building blocks of all electronics. Inside your cell phone are billions and billions of transistors. Next year about 1 million transistors will be manufactured for every ant on the face of the earth. The transistor was invented in 1947, four years before I was born, and the integrated circuit in 1959, when I was 8 years old. Every year since then, engineers have made transistors smaller, cheaper, faster and less power hungry. Without them we wouldn’t have smartphones, personal computers, tablets, the Internet, weather satellites, supercomputers, MRI machines, CT scans, Facebook, etc… the modern world wouldn’t exist.”

At Purdue, Lundstrom teaches undergraduates how to design electronic systems with transistors and graduate students how to develop new transistors with better performance.

In research, he works with Ph.D. students to understand what the ultimate limits of transistor technology are and how to develop technologies to get there.

“We’re all used to having our electronics get better and cheaper all the time. We’re working to make sure that continues to happen,” he said.

“Electronic technology has had a huge impact on society. The world today is dramatically different from the world of my childhood in the 1950s and for better or worse, electronics is a big reason. Technologies that have such dramatic impact on society come along every 1,000 years or so. I’m fortunate to have been along for the ride, as this technology was created and has matured and to have been able to contribute in a small way,” he said.

When asked what originally sparked his interest in science and engineering, he said, “Maybe it was Sputnik and the race to the moon. I was always up early in the morning to watch the rockets being launched. Of course, there was often a snafu and they didn’t go off!. I was always busy with my telescope, shooting off model rockets, playing with my ham radio.

“I hope Minnesotans appreciate what a treasure they have in the U of M. There are some incredible people their doing amazing things, and bringing what they learn into the classroom. I couldn’t have received a better education anywhere.”

Lundstrom said he’s currently trying to figure out what to do for an encore and what 21st century electronics will be.

In the meantime, he’s also spearheading the nano-HUB-U initiative, which brings the new insights and understanding gained from research in nanoelectronics to an online audience of students and working engineers across the globe.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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