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Big research on tiny technologies

Photonics Spectra
Dec 2009
Anne L. Fischer, Senior Editor, anne.fischer@laurin.com

IMEC is one busy research center. Headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, the independent research and development center focuses on nanoelectronics and nanotechnology, partnering with companies, universities and other research institutes. One example of the collaborative approach can be seen in the development of technologies and devices for the body and mind.

The Human++ research program, which is operated through IMEC and the Holst Centre in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, focuses on the development of miniaturized devices and technologies that attach to the body to determine a diagnosis or provide feedback on the status of various therapies. Many partners take part in the research. One example is Terepac of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, which packages the electronics that go into wireless electro-cardiogram (ECG) systems.

Terepac brings to the program its expertise in the photochemical printing process, in which thinned silicon dies and passive components are placed on flexible substrates that go into a wireless ECG patch. As with other partnerships within the center, the relationship between IMEC and Terepac is mutually beneficial: IMEC benefits from Terepac’s package assembly capabilities, and Terepac has the advantage of being able to test its technology in the final stages of production and application.

Advancing the smart grid

Lowering costs and increasing the performance of power devices such as smart meters, switches, sensors and actuators – all of which play a role in alternative energy – are other areas of focus. Gallium nitride (GaN) devices have shown promise for use on the electrical grid of the future, but making them cost-effectively means producing very large GaN wafers. As a result of collaboration with Aixtron of Crystal Lake, Ill., IMEC launched an industrial affiliation program, with a goal of working toward lowering the cost of GaN technology by using large-diameter GaN-on-silicon. Potential applications include high-power switching in solar converters, motor drives and hybrid electric vehicles.

Greenlight1.jpg
IMEC cooperates with the photovoltaic industry on research and development of highly efficient thin-film crystalline-silicon solar cells and advanced photovoltaic technology, such as organic solar cells and solar concentrators with photovoltaic stacks.

Aixtron provides the equipment that makes GaN-on-silicon wafers for the solid-state lighting market, among others. With this equipment, researchers at IMEC demonstrated crack-free GaN growth on 200-mm wafers. According to Frank Schulte, vice president of Aixtron Europe, IMEC is a “kind of showroom,” where the equipment is in front of a lot of end users, who he said are all potential customers. The benefit to IMEC is the potential development of high-voltage, low-loss, high-power switching devices based on large-diameter GaN-on-silicon technology.

By sharing costs and resources, partners bring in products and technology that become part of the research and development process, and cross-fertilization is the result. While IMEC is headquartered in Belgium, its offices in China, the Netherlands, Japan, Taiwan and the US afford the center the opportunity to have an impact on the technologies of our global future.


GLOSSARY
actuator
Mechanical device intended for the translation (rotational and linear) using high precision control from electronically operated circuits. See linear actuator; rotary actuator.
nanotechnology
The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
sensor
1. A generic term for detector. 2. A complete optical/mechanical/electronic system that contains some form of radiation detector.
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