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Eminent Scholar Wins Major Grant For Super-Tough Semiconductors
Date: April 7, 2000
By: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806
Archive: Campus News, Research News

The Ohio Technology Action Fund awarded $595,000 to Ohio Eminent Scholar Andrew Steckl to speed the commercialization of semiconductors which can withstand extreme heat, radiation, and corrosive environments.

image of Steckl

Steckl's previous research showed that gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) can be used to produce semiconductors that are signficantly more "robust" than conventional materials. He already holds several patents on the silicon carbide materials and has filed patents for the gallium nitride technology.

The new grant will allow Steckl to expand his collaborations with Dow Corning Corporation, the Wright Patterson Air Force Base Air Force Research Laboratory, and other partners to produce and test commercial-grade devices. Applications include power generation, aerospace, and automotives where harsh environments are the norm.

"Usually, the problem is heat," said Steckl, Gieringer Professor of Solid State Electronics and director of the Nanoelectronics Laboratory in the College of Engineering.

"This happens for two reasons, one is the environment as in a jet or auto engine for the operation of sensors and actuators. The other is the self-generated heat when you operate under conditions of high electrical current or power necessary for high power transistors or high brightness light emitting diodes." Jet engines, for example, operate between 1800 and 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Technology Action Fund (TAF) grant provides funding for projects close to being commercialized. Traditional research funding focuses on basic research and isn't sufficient to bring a new product to market. "The TAF grant is designed to address issues which a normal research grant does not: device reliability, reproducibility, comparisons with existing technology, evaluation of costs," said Professor Steckl who added that "Ohio is in a very strong position to take national leadership in developing this technology."

Silicon carbide is available commercially now; however, the cost for a basic wafer runs as high as $4,000 compared with $10 for a silicon wafer with twice the surface area. Steckl's research has focused on the growth of thin films of SiC and GaN on top of silicon wafers. This would be significantly more economical.

Most important, the industrial and research partners share in the cost of the project. Total funding is over $1.9 million from the Ohio TAF and Dow Corning, Integrated Scientific Solutions, Edison Materials Technology Center, and Wright Patterson AFB.