Student Spotlight: Patrick Sheridan - Memristors and the Brain

Patrick Sheridan

“Taking inspiration from the brain, we look at how neurons are interconnected and share signals, and then we try to replicate that with our memristive devices,” said Patrick Sheridan, Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering.

Patrick is at the frontier of developing memristor devices for neuromorphic computing as a member of Prof. Wei Lu’s nanoelectronics research group.

A blend of memory and resistor, memristors are electrical circuits that remember, in a sense, when and how much current passes through them. That makes memristor devices ideal in hardware designs for intelligent computing.

Patrick is currently focused on using memristors in image reconstruction. He is attempting to mimic the way our visual cortex translates the electrical signals that are generated by the eyes when viewing specific scenes, and then stores the image so it can be recalled later. (more information about the research project)

Testing a device
Memristor devices being characterized in a probe station

Patrick enjoys that his research takes him up and down the technology stack – from the development and fabrication of actual devices to creating algorithms for the devices based on theoretical math.

His time in the Lurie Nanofabrication Lab cleanroom provides Patrick with valuable insights into how to improve his algorithms. Because variation in fabrication is inevitable in these nanoscale devices, he says that the algorithms must be tolerant of defects in the chips.

“This comes back to the brain analogy,” said Patrick. “The brain finds a way to work around its own defects, such as neurons that die off or faulty connections, to get the work done.”

Patrick arrived at Michigan in 2010 after graduating from Virginia Tech with bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and mathematics. He had been considering a school with less dramatic winters, but chose U-M because of Prof. Lu’s research and the rapport the two developed in their early communications.

“He works all the time as far as I can tell,” Patrick said of Prof. Lu. “But when you need support he is on point to help. He’s a very involved professor. Coming to Michigan was a good choice.”

What else does Patrick do?

“I’m an avid reader of science fiction, and I do a lot of programming for fun,” said Patrick. “There are always little things you want to tinker with, like controlling your computer from your phone. I used to have a lot of trouble with the bus system here, so I wrote a little app that tells me when a bus should be arriving.”

Patrick’s advice for new graduate students

“Take advantage of the personal relationships that you have. This is where Michigan is really strong. Reach out to faculty personally. That’s how you form a relationship that turns into research. Even if you aren’t going into research it will help you with classes, or maybe even help you land a job.”