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Local Inventor Helps Power the World

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RALEIGH — Chances are you have no idea of all the thought, time, and effort that goes into making your life easier. A Raleigh man has worked most of his life on something so small, you can barely see it. Yet, his semiconductor chips have literally had a worldwide impact on just about everything we use.

Every time you start your car, turn on your air conditioner or wash your clothes, you have a local man to thank.

Dr. Jay Baliga's tiny semiconductor chip has made a huge impact on our lives. Twenty years ago, Baliga developed a design that basically acts as a very fast switch inside a motor.

"Based on that breakthrough, it has transformed the way power electronics is done," he says.

The tiny chips allow electricity to distribute throughout a device more efficiently, saving energy.

Computers have memory chips which act like a brain. Dr. Baliga's chips regulate power.

"The technology that I'm working on is like the muscles in the human body," he says.

Over the past five years atN.C. State University, Baliga has turned his attention from bigger motors to portable electronics -- like cell phones and laptop computers.

"When you turn on the cell phone you're doing one function. When you send the signal you're doing a different function, and so on. And there's a very limited amount of power available in the battery so you want to conserve that as much as possible," he explains.

If his chips are used inside the phone, the battery could last twice as long. They also reduce the heat generated inside.

"And that is equally important because it allows you to reduce the size of the cell phone. You know everybody would like a smaller phone to stuff into their pocket," Baliga says with a laugh.

Baliga's interest in semiconductors started early in his life. His father ran the largest electronics company in India.

"In fact, I used to take my summer vacations when I was in school and would spend it at the company looking at how people build chips," he says.

At age 51, Baliga's inventions, developed in the Triangle, are having a ripple effect felt around the world.

Baliga has won the most prestigious awards in the industry, yet you might not even know how much he's changed your life if you happened to pass him on the street.

"I have the internal satisfaction of having had that impact so I don't think I need very much more," he says.

Baliga has 99 patents to his name. He received about half of them during the past 11 years as a professor at N.C. State.

His new chips could be in our cell phones and laptops within a year. Because they are so small, they will work with the packaging currently used by manufacturers.

Despite all of his inventions, Baliga says he is not an extremely wealthy man. He says that is because his first invention came when he worked for G.E.

His status may soon change. Baliga's new chips have a market value of $3.3 billion.