Scientists at the University of Southampton and two other universities are pioneering research that will develop the next generation of new electronic technologies to support the UK's communication and healthcare sectors.
The University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), in collaboration with the Universities of Surrey and Cambridge, is pioneering research that will develop functionality of new materials such as amorphous chalcogenides. These materials bridge the gap between glasses, such as those that form our optical fibre networks, and semiconductors, such as the silicon chip. Chalcogenides are already in use for thin-film and fibre waveguides, switching, light emission and amplification while electronic applications, such as phase-change memory, are leading the way in microelectronics.
Microelectronics is a vast market; worldwide production was €200 billion in 2006. Of this, the UK accounts for a production volume of €5.2 billion, corresponding to 12 per cent of the European volume and 2.3 per cent of the world market.
Professor Dan Hewak, project leader from the ORC, says: "We expect this project to generate considerable attention in both research and industrial communities. This research will stimulate interest in further electrical and optical applications of chalcogenides on a local and international scale, particularly as we move towards commercial realisation. Many of the device goals, such as LEDs, photodiodes, photovoltaic cells, optical amplifiers, switches, logic gates and memory cells will be of great interest to large electronics companies."
The ORC has long established links with leading international companies including BAE Systems, Qinetiq, Ilika Technologies plc, Gooch & Housego and IBM. Industrial interest is further reinforced by the involvement of a leading international expert in the field of applications of ion implantation, Dr Jonathan England, who is Senior Technologist at Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates (VSEA). Jonathan is undertaking the role of project mentor, with VSEA sponsoring his time to the project.
Dr Richard Curry, University of Surrey project leader, explains: "Our work will impact on policy makers, stakeholders, research councils and government - providing clear measurable results that demonstrate the value of investment in UK-led research. Ultimately, the development of new technologies to assist commerce, healthcare and improved device energy efficiencies will provide long-term benefits to the economy and society as a whole."
Professor Stephen Elliott, University of Cambridge project leader, adds: "This combined computational and experimental project holds out the promise of delivering new functional materials, with a wide range of applications of interest to industry, and which should provide opto-electronic technologies beyond silicon."
The £1.48m Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)- funded project forms an important component of the EPSRC's Grand Challenge in Microelectronics entitled, 'Performance Driven Design for Next Generation Chip Design'. The grant is initially awarded over two years during which the number and range of collaborations and industrial interest is expected to grow in the new chalcogenide-based optoelectronic platform.