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March 19, 2007 at 10:18 AM

Micron lab at UW to research new chip materials

The University of Washington cut the ribbon today on a new research lab that will seek the best materials to surround ever-smaller silicon semiconductors in the computer chips of the future.

The Micron Laboratory for Combinatorial Materials Exploration is funded in part by $900,000 in materials and equipment from Micron Technology, the Boise, Idaho, maker of DRAM and Flash memory.

The silicon that conducts electrons across chips is getting thinner to fit more processing power into smaller devices. Fumio Ohuchi, a UW materials science and engineering professor and one of the new lab’s directors, said silicon is still a good material for conducting the electrons.

“But the supporting material, the surrounding scaffold, will have to change as we’re pushing the technical limit,” he said in a news release. “Smaller devices will require new combinations of materials.”

The lab will aim to rapidly research new combinations by layering wafers of different materials and then performing a single test to evaluate factors such as composition, atomic structure and manufacturing process.

The results will be published in a publicly accessible database. Ohuchi said the “combinatorial” process could be used to test materials for other high-tech applications, such as solar and fuel cells.

The lab is a boon for UW because it will “build much tighter relationships with our neighboring semiconductor companies,” Materials Science and Engineering Department Chair Alex Jen said in the news release.

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