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The building of innovation

Researchers needed tech that didn’t exist; with NSF support, they are bringing it to life in Lehigh University’s Center for Photonics and Nanoelectronics

An interdisciplinary faculty team from Lehigh University’s Center for Photonics and Nanoelectronics (CPN) has been steadily earning recognition for pushing the envelope with advances in materials, devices and integrated systems in optical and electronics technologies, especially the synthesis of new materials with a broad range of applicability.

They had pushed the envelope so far, however, that the technology to go any farther just didn’t exist. Waiting for industry to catch up wasn’t an option. So the CPN team quickly centered on the only logical conclusion: build what it needed to continue innovating.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the development of this new technology is now underway.

The team, co-led by Nelson Tansu, the Daniel E. '39 and Patricia M. Smith Endowed Chair Professor of electrical and computer engineering and CPN Director, and Siddha Pimputkar, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, has recently secured funding from the NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program to create a new High Pressure Spatial chemical vapor deposition (HPS-CVD) reactor.

The team kicked off the design of this new reactor in January 2018 in the CPN with the goal of completing its manufacture by fall 2018. They aim for the device to be ready to grow new materials beginning January 2019.

The system will enable new capabilities in material synthesis that include growth under extremely high-pressure conditions, growth under extremely high temperatures, the ability to integrate new elements, and the ability to integrate highly dissimilar materials.

The CPN faculty team also includes Jonathan J. Wierer, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, Volkmar Dierolf, chair of physics department with Lehigh’s College of Arts and Sciences, Nicholas C. Strandwitz, assistant professor of materials science and engineering and Renbo Song ’09 PhD, CPN’s scientific manager.

“We are truly excited to have the opportunity to build a next-generation reactor with the capability of growing new materials under extreme conditions,” Tansu said. “The ability to have a reactor capable of growing unconventional III-nitride semiconductors and oxynitride materials, and potentially integrating them with other 2-dimensional layered materials, will allow us to make novel and promising materials, to answer fundamental questions of these new materials, and to use these new phenomena for building ground-breaking devices.”

When completed, the reactor will enable the unprecedented growth of group III-nitride and oxynitride semiconductors. These wide bandgap semiconductors will have an impact in the development of device technologies with applications in energy efficiency and renewable energy, smart vehicle and power delivery systems, optical communications and IoT (Internet of Things).

The MRI program is also providing support for graduate students working closely with the faculty team to design, build and optimize the reactor and relevant processes. This new reactor design will also be scalable for potential future technology transfer.

“This grant is the result of consistent efforts over the past four years to assemble a research team and expertise in ultra-wide bandgap semiconductor technologies,” Tansu said. “In early 2015, we submitted a large-scale, center-level proposal to the NSF. Although the proposal ultimately wasn’t selected, the effort to develop it paid many dividends. The proposal later served as a “master plan” for future CPN efforts and helped identify the need for additional Lehigh faculty, as well as the need for the HPS-CVD reactor that became the subject of our successful MRI proposal. The additions of Pimputkar and Wierer, as well as this new reactor, are instrumental in continuing the progress of CPN in creating large-scale research efforts in the areas of sustainable and integrated technologies.”

The instrument will be managed by CPN’s technical staff and housed in the Smith Family Laboratory facility, a 12,000 square foot lab made possible by a generous gift from Daniel E. Smith, Jr. ’71 and his family. The new reactor will complement CPN’s existing semiconductor epitaxy, nanofabrication and advanced device characterization capabilities. The instrument will also provide a tremendous boost to Lehigh’s semiconductor materials activities.

“CPN’s core capabilities are among the top five centers of excellence in its research area,” Tansu said. “Our faculty invest a great deal of time and effort in creating new knowledge, mentoring students and pushing the frontiers of science and engineering.”

According to Tansu, core Lehigh faculty working in III-nitrides and new oxide/oxynitride wide bandgap semiconductors are highly productive, with more than 90 journal papers published at Lehigh over the past five years.

Lehigh’s Center for Photonics and Nanoelectronics

CPN is devoted to exploration in photonics, electronics and solid-state devices, channeling Lehigh's intellectual and physical resources into breakthrough photonics and nanoelectronics research that serve to address hot-button challenges in areas such as energy, sustainable infrastructure and environment, and health care and biomedicine.

CPN researchers develop novel material devices and device architectures, partnering with and integrating Lehigh's research foundations in computational science and engineering, materials, chemistry, physics, devices and systems. Expertise and facilities affiliated with CPN support partnerships and projects with colleagues from across industry, academia and government.

“The goal of CPN,” Tansu said, “is to transform the science of photonics and nanoelectronics in ways that help us develop material devices and device architecture to meet society’s grand challenges. By combining a strong foundation in computational, materials, devices and integrated systems with core expertise in photonics and nanoelectronics, we enable faculty and students to work on advancing the frontiers of science and technology with ambitious, long-term vision.”

CPN represents the merger of two previous longstanding Lehigh research centers: the Center for Optical Technologies, which was devoted to photonics research, and the Sherman Fairchild Center for Solid-State Studies, which concentrated on research in electronics and solid state devices.

February 22, 2018

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