Research project promises faster, cheaper and more reliable microchips

January 20, 2003

A project between academia and industry is aiming to spark a world electronics revolution by producing faster, cheaper and more reliable microchips.

The University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, has joined forces with Atmel, on North Tyneside in the North East of England, to create 'strained silicon' microchips, which involves adding a material called germanium to the traditional silicon used in semiconductor manufacturing.

Atmel, whose silicon chips find applications in such diverse products as smart cards and game consoles like XBOX, is playing host to a team of five Newcastle University researchers led by top microelectronics professor Anthony O'Neill.

"With this process we can create strained silicon microchips, which will be much faster or use less battery power than conventional microchips" explained Professor Anthony O'Neill, who leads a team of 5 researchers. The team, hosted by Atmel, aim to produce the world's first strained silicon technology, ahead of the competition.

"Microchips have doubled in performance every 18 months for the last 30 years, but the end of the road is now in sight, which means new innovations like strained silicon are needed at the leading edge of microelectronics," added Professor O'Neill, l who has been working with strained silicon processes for almost ten years.

Atmel Managing Director Craig McInnes said: "This is great news for the North East because it brings real, commercial research and development to the region. This will help develop the knowledge-based economy which is vital for our future.

"We have the potential here for developing a brand new process which will give us cheaper and faster chips. These will be the market leaders of tomorrow. Atmel and Newcastle University have joined forces to develop some of the world's fastest microchips."

The research and development project based at Atmel's North Tyneside semiconductor factory and involves joint working to unravel the complexities of working with a new material called strained silicon germanium.

Strained silicon on silicon-germanium has been tipped as one of the key emergent technologies for the next generation of semiconductors.

If the venture proves successful it will bring leading edge technology to the North East.

The two sides have entered in to a joint collaborative agreement and will share the fruits of the development if it proves to be a world beater.

Atmel will supply the manufacturing know-how to speed up the development.

The joint venture marks a break-though in collaborative working between Newcastle University and industry.

Prof O'Neill added: "This really is getting the research out of the lab into the commercial world. Working with Atmel will allow us to take the product from the drawing board to marketable reality a lot quicker than relying on the limited resources available to universities.

"Getting products to market quickly is vital in the fast-moving world of semiconductor manufacturing and development. If we are successful we will have a world first made on Tyneside."
-end-
Notes to editors:

1. Strained Si CMOS technology can improve current logic technology without the expense of costly re-tooling or improve bleeding edge technology beyond state-of-the-art. Potential applications include low power chips, analog and low noise RF components. It will compete on the boundaries of high performance but more costly technologies (GaAs), enabling for example all silicon mobile communications products.

It is compatible with, and complementary to, other contemporary technology innovations, e.g. copper interconnect, low-k dielectrics, metal gates, SoI, etc.

The strain increases electron mobility leading to higher current in transistors. It is achieved by aligning atoms in a silicon film of thickness 10-30 nm with an underlying thick layer of unstrained silicon germanium (SiGe) alloy.

Tensile strain in the silicon layer is engineered by the germanium concentration, which increases the separation of atoms in the alloy. Strained Si technology, aimed at the large CMOS market, differs from existing SiGe technology (in production by Atmel and others) used to engineer energy band gaps and so increase the gain of heterojunction bipolar transistors.

Particular challenges relate to the high temperatures used in CMOS processing and the limited thickness of strained silicon possible due to its strain energy.

2. For further information contact:
Ross Forbes, Atmel: + 44 (0) 191 280 4187, mobile: + 44 (0) 773 4316183
Bill Shepherd, Newcastle University: + 44 (0) 191 222 3507

Newcastle University

Related Silicon Articles from Brightsurf:

Single photons from a silicon chip
Quantum technology holds great promise: Quantum computers are expected to revolutionize database searches, AI systems, and computational simulations.

For solar boom, scrap silicon for this promising mineral
Cornell University engineers have found that photovoltaic wafers in solar panels with all-perovskite structures outperform photovoltaic cells made from state-of-the-art crystalline silicon, as well as perovskite-silicon tandem cells, which are stacked pancake-style cells that absorb light better.

Surprisingly strong and deformable silicon
Researchers at ETH have shown that tiny objects can be made from silicon that are much more deformable and stronger than previously thought.

A leap in using silicon for battery anodes
Scientists have come up with a novel way to use silicon as an energy storage ingredient.

Flexible thinking on silicon solar cells
Combining silicon with a highly elastic polymer backing produces solar cells that have record-breaking stretchability and high efficiency.

No storm in a teacup -- it's a cyclone on a silicon chip
University of Queensland researchers have combined quantum liquids and silicon-chip technology to study turbulence for the first time, opening the door to new navigation technologies and improved understanding of the turbulent dynamics of cyclones and other extreme weather.

Black silicon can help detect explosives
Scientists from Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU), Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Swinburne University of Technology, and Melbourne Center for Nanofabrication developed an ultrasensitive detector based on black silicon.

2D antimony holds promise for post-silicon electronics
Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering are searching for alternative materials to silicon with semiconducting properties that could form the basis for an alternative chip.

Silicon technology boost with graphene and 2D materials
In a review published in Nature, ICFO researchers and collaborators report on the current state, challenges, opportunities of graphene and 2D material integration in Silicon technology.

Light and sound in silicon chips: The slower the better
Acoustics is a missing dimension in silicon chips because acoustics can complete specific tasks that are difficult to do with electronics and optics alone.

Read More: Silicon News and Silicon Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.