IBM Research Scientist Robert H. Dennard has been named as the recipient of the National Academy of Engineering's 2009 Charles Stark Draper Prize. Recognized as one of the world's preeminent awards for engineering achievement, the Charles Stark Draper Prize honors an engineer whose accomplishment has significantly impacted society by improving the quality of life, providing the ability to live freely and comfortably, and/or permitting the access to information.
Dennard was recognized for his invention and contributions to the development of Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM), used universally in computers and other data processing and communication systems. The 1968 invention of DRAM using one-transistor cells paved the way for the worldwide explosion of computing, and the increase of data storage into small devices. DRAM is a form of computer memory that puts bits of data into capacitors -- energy-storage devices within a miniaturized electronic circuit -- and periodically recharges the capacitors so that the information in them is not lost. His 1-transistor design was a vast improvement over the existing 6-transistor cell in use at that time. Dennard's ability to use only a single metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) transistor -- a device that conducts electricity, amplifying the charge as the electricity is passed along -- allowed his memory cell to be much smaller and simpler in design than its predecessor.
In addition, Dennard and associates developed the set of consistent scaling principles for miniaturizing MOS transistors and integrated circuits using them, which are the basis for today's electronic microprocessor chips as well as DRAM chips. In the early 1970s the industry was concerned with how far MOS transistors could be miniaturized without affecting their switching ability. Dennard's IBM group introduced a theory -- called "constant-field scaling" -- which addressed these issues. This scaling allowed for computers to run faster on significantly less energy and thus be less costly to operate and is a major driver of the industry. His 1974 paper Design of ion-implanted MOSFET's with very small physical dimensions is universally referenced and has been reprinted as a "Classic Paper" in the Proceedings of the IEEE.
The availability of cheap, high-density memory that has come about due to the invention of the DRAM cell has enabled tremendous growth in computing over the past 40 years, and has played a major role in enabling computing to be embedded into everyday life in devices such as cell phones, mp3 players, game machines sensors and more.