Faster computers for a faster world

With computers controlling everything from stock trades to traffic lights, their speed and reliability are no longer a luxury but a necessity.

But under the hood, computers are nowhere near as fast as computer companies would like us to believe. Memory and hard drives are still very slow and cannot send data quickly enough to CPUs. Greasing those electronic wheels will require sophisticated research like that being undertaken by Professor Qing Yang.

In 24 years at the University of Rhode Island, Yang has secured 10 patents in the field – more patents than any other URI professor. The U.S. Patent Office approved his first patent in 1992 and has been busy approving them ever since.

His research finds its roots in basic engineering principles that Yang transfers to modern challenges.

“We don’t create a new thing but we can solve real problems using fundamental science,” he says. “That’s our job.”

For example, to speed up the cache that sits next to a CPU, Yang adapted a 17th century mathematical concept to solve the 21st century challenge of how to organize data in the cache. The traditional data routing method slots different pieces of data into the same electronic holding place. That causes conflict in the memory and costs valuable nanoseconds.

So Yang uses a well-tested mathematical concept, Mersenne Prime, to sort data based on a different formula tied to prime numbers. Using the Mersenne Prime concept, Yang’s computer architecture can sort and direct data using only addition without resorting to time-consuming division.

Yang’s technology – often developed with the assistance of students – has been licensed to major computing companies such as Intel and startups such as Massachusetts-based VeloBit. For students, the experience of working on a team that wins a patent provides invaluable leverage during job interviews, and for some students it has meant checks, including one that topped $10,000.

The commercial application of technology also puts Yang in high demand in the corporate world and at other universities. But the professor has turned down job offers. He still remembers his URI job interview at a restaurant along Narragansett Bay. The gentle waves, the sandy beach and the blue skies zoomed the University to the top of his list.

Now, more than two decades later, he still loves Rhode Island and has built strong ties to his colleagues and students.

“I try to make an impact; that’s my goal,” he says. “I value quality more than quantity in terms of producing research results.”