University of Virginia professor Mircea Stan (from left); Stu Wolf, director of the Virginia Nanoelectronics Center; Jiwei Lu, research assistant; and Robert Weike, professor. Photo by Andrew Shurtleff, Charlottesville Daily Progress

Someone is going to discover silicon’s successor — something that makes faster, smaller, cheaper computer chips — and probably soon. And whoever does stands a good chance of dominating the chip industry for years to come.

So Jeff Welser, director of the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, thinks it’d be nice if it happened somewhere in America.

To encourage such research, the University of Virginia will unveil a new research center today, one that NRI is helping to fund.

“We think it’s very important … that the U.S. focus particularly hard on this,” Welser said in an interview from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, where he was on his way to Charlottesville.

The Virginia Nanoelectronics Center — ViNC, for short — will be a collaboration between UVa, the College of William & Mary and Old Dominion University. The universities also have been working closely with Micron Technology Inc., a chip-maker with a facility in Manassas. The new center will hunt for new materials from which to make chips.

“Basically, what we’re doing is looking at the replacement of technologies that are used in all computers today,” Jim Aylor, dean of engineering at UVa, said.

The researchers are hunting for “totally new materials, totally new technology, totally new architectures,” Wolf said.

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