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Spotlight

Srabanti Chowdhury

Associate Professor
Electrical Engineering
Story originally published on Mar 2022
I’m an associate professor of electrical engineering and a senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy.

I lead the Wide-Bandgap Lab (WBG Lab) at Stanford with an outstanding group of students and postdocs. We focus on developing new semiconductor technologies that deliver energy efficiency in electronics beyond what’s possible with silicon.

I’ve always been an adventurous and curious person; even as a child growing up in India, my mind was always asking the whys of everything until I got to the bottom of it. That’s why engineering fascinated me, and I pursued it, even though I think my parents would have preferred a career that kept me in our community, closer to the family.

I came to my career a bit circuitously. I looked for a job right away after undergrad so I would be independent and could make my own living. At the time, I had no idea I wanted to get my PhD, but after a year I realized I wanted to advance my knowledge through focused research and reading. I had offers from wonderful universities – but a chance conversation with Professor Umesh Mishra, my future advisor, tilted the scales. It was a very welcoming conversation, one that included a challenge too: Come check us out; we’ll get to know you too, and see if this feels like your final destination. It was a beautiful introduction to him – the way he thoughtfully considers opportunities for a meaningful fit on all sides – and the work he does. That conversation made it clear that joining his group was the right move for me.

Today, I’m doing research on semiconductor devices that will help electronics become much more efficient, versatile and accessible. If you can’t be energy efficient, what’s the point of having electronics that support electric vehicles or transform grids into microgrids. Silicon has traditionally been the enabler for all these electronics – and indeed, it’s still the benchmark for material performance. But now we must research new materials to achieve new levels of efficient performance.

My lab works with gallium nitride, along with other emerging wide-bandgap oxides and nitrides such as gallium oxide and aluminum nitride. We’re trying to discover how these materials can support electronics that are more efficient, compact, reliable and useful. Gallium nitride is an interesting material that’s led to a new class of semiconductors; in fact, Nobel Prize-winning work with gallium nitride produced blue LED lights and the warm white LEDs of today. Through it, we can create compact systems, without draining performance as they tend to run hotter. In short, we can do more with less cooling.

Now we’re branching into working with diamond, one of the hardest materials known to humanity, with one of the highest known thermal conductivity. We think we can get more out of even silicon microchips if we can pack more and more electronics in those small spaces – but you first must remove heat that degrades performance and hurts electronic components. Diamond is a fantastic heat spreader and our recent results have captured its potential. We’re also investigating whether diamond could be the next power material in the same vein as silicon and gallium nitride.

I love that through electrical engineering, our work can bridge the gap between materials and circuits and from synthesis to application and have an impact in the world.

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