UCCS, Atmel pursue nanotechnology

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A scanning electron microscope shows a gear train in which each tooth is smaller than a red blood cell.

Two Colorado Springs groups have embarked on an international journey to research and create nanotechnology for uses ranging from medicine to communications.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Atmel Corp. and Queens University in Belfast are working on research projects involving silicon germanium and other technologies.
“They are doing what few people in high-tech industry do, collaborate,” said Margaret McMahon, executive director of the Northern Ireland International Trade Center in Denver.
While the UCCS engineering department has been involved in other international arrangements, the latest with Queens University is especially exciting, said Jeremy Haefner, dean of engineering.
“This has a nice balance between industry and higher education both here and in Ireland,” he said. “And the groups are working on joint patent applications – so they are not only creating new ideas, but creating an impact on the marketplace with those ideas.”
UCCS became involved with the collaboration through the research of graduate student and Atmel engineer Darwin Enicks and UCCS professor Gerald Oleszek, Haefner said. The two work in the area of nanotechnology.
“Their ideas and processes provided the initiative that the group now is working on,” Haefner said. “This is very exciting work.”
Darwin Enicks, principal engineer at Atmel, said the groups hope their work will lead to patents for semiconductor nanotechnologies, insulating substrate technologies and micro- and nano-electromechanical systems.
“Nanotechnology refers to the development of ‘man-made’ electronic, photonic or mechanical devices with features less than 100 nano-meters in size, or about 100 times smaller than a human red blood cell,” Enicks said. “The MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) and NEMS (nano-electromechanical systems) are emerging fields of technology, which are aimed at development and commercialization of miniaturized ‘atomic and molecular scale’ electro-mechanical devices for diverse uses from medicine to communications.”
The organizations are also involved in a proposed $1 million research program whose focus is next generation millimeter wave technology.
“Mm-wave technologies offer immense potential for inventive research and engineering application in commercial, consumer and military based products in areas as diverse as environmental monitoring, terrorist countermeasures, vehicular radar and high capacity broadband wireless data links,” he said.
The research will involve work with silicon germanium, which is being used in the development of the next generation of electronic and photonic devices, Enicks said.
“The addition of germanium to silicon allows scientists and engineers to modify the way in which electrons and photons are conducted in a device,” he said. “With modern manufacturing techniques, layers of SiGe and SiGeC less than 30 nm are readily grown by chemical vapor deposition techniques. The growth of such thin alloys allows for significant improvements to devices such as very low power so batteries last longer; very high speed for faster transmission of data in the Internet and cell phones; and very low noise for more clear transmission of data such as cell phones.”
Enicks said that most modern electronic devices are fabricated on top of a silicon substrate material, making the research on silicon germanium cutting edge.
“SOI technology incorporates an insulating layer between the thin single-crystal silicon layer, and the much thicker substrate of the silicon wafer, allowing higher speed and lower power consumption in semiconductor devices,” he said. “This technology has advantages for portable products such as laptops, hand-held devices and allows devices that require high voltage. The reason such as structure is of significant value in fabricating integrating circuits is that individual transistors can easily be isolated from each other and from the bulk substrate.”
The collaboration arose after conversations late in 2004, when Boutin introduced Atmel and UCCS representatives to the Denver-based Northern Ireland Technology and Development Center. The groups met in Derry and Belfast for three days earlier this year.
“The February visit was an outstanding success, resulting in approximately 10 areas of collaboration among Atmel Corporation, UCCS and Queens University in Belfast,” McMahon said. “The scientists agreed to collaborate on research, submit joint patent applications and to send from Northern Ireland a Ph.D. candidate and a post-doctoral candidate to UCCS.”
For Haefner, the collaboration provides a new thrust in an area that is of high interest in the technology community.
“The unique feature of this collaboration is very exciting,” he said. “The potential is there to create some very unique, cutting-edge research.”