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Inventing the next silicon superstars


Nanyang Technological University and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research have joined forces to further silicon’s use. Their S$30 million Silicon Technologies, Centre of Excellence will focus on using it in advanced sensors, high-end semiconductors and three-dimensional integrated circuits.

Look into industries from information technology to transportation, healthcare and energy production and you’ll find silicon used in some way. The simple element has revolutionised our world, especially through the semiconductor chips that are embedded in virtually all electronics.

Now, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) aim to push the material’s use even further. They have set up a S$30 million Silicon Technologies, Centre of Excellence (Si-COE) that will find new ways of deploying it in security,environmental protection, wearable technology and even in space.

The centre will focus on four research areas: the use of silicon in advanced sensors; managing silicon materials’ heat and reliability; high-end semiconductors on silicon; and three-dimensional integrated circuits.

Combining silicon and other semiconductor materials, for instance, can result in portable sensors that are more alert to chemicals used in explosives as well as gas leaks from pipelines. Silicon-based sensors that use the mid-infrared light spectrum can also better detect greenhouse gases.

The Si-COE’s scientists are also researching stackable integrated circuits that can improve electronic devices’ battery life and computing power. They have already created a prototype that can, among other benefits, double a device’s battery life.

Professor Wang Hong from NTU’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) said: “Such discoveries will be critical in integrating power electronics and optoelectronics into the conventional silicon platform, and have significant applications in the development of Internet of Things devices.”

The Si-COE has secured partnerships with leaders in the electronics and semiconductor industries, such as Hewlett-Packard, the Thales Group, GlobalFoundries and Infineon Technologies, to ensure that the research is translated into new applications and economic opportunities for Singapore.

With an eye on the future, it is also working with the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association to attract potential students and groom future generations of engineers.

The Si-COE will tap on the diverse expertise of NTU’s 4,300-strong faculty and research staff from more than 80 countries, as well as the A*Star Institute of Microelectronics’ experience in silicon technologies.

In fact, one prototype by the centre’s scientists could find its way not just in our daily lives but also into space.

The team has created a hybrid material that changes its shape as it becomes hotter. The material could be used in space to help unfold solar panels on space vehicles more efficiently, and has met the European Space Agency’s space standard.

Professor Ng Geok Ing from EEE, who is the centre’s director, said variants of the material, which distributes and dissipates heat very quickly, could also be used in wearable technology such as smart watches and the Google Glass headset.

He said: “One of the problems with such wearable technologies is that certain components can get very hot, especially if you want to boost their processing power. Our materials can help solve that problem.”

 

By Professor Ng Geok Ing School of EEE


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Published on: 7-Dec-2016