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Semiconductor research gets £10 million boost
Article Type: Industry news From: Microelectronics International, Volume 28, Issue 1
A cutting-edge University of Sheffield research facility, which studies advances in semiconductors used in the internet, solar cells, DVD players and gas detection, has received a £10 million renewal contract, enabling academic experts throughout the UK to continue making technological breakthroughs.
The EPSRC National Centre for III-V Technologies, based in the University’s Centre for Nanoscience and Technology, is set to benefit from the cash over the next five years, to support research in III-V semiconductor materials and devices, which play a fundamental role in many of the technologies which transform everyday life.
A semiconductor is a crystal which can be changed in a chemical way to alter its electrical properties, so that it can then be made into electronic devices, such as lasers. The class of semiconductor materials known as III-Vs are used in a number of ways. The internet would not be possible without these semiconductors. Internet and telephone data is sent down a fibre optic cable in the form of a light pulse produced by tiny semiconductor lasers, enabling a huge amount of data to be sent. In addition, mobile phones use devices from these materials to boost the transmission signal, and in CDs or DVDs, semiconductor lasers are able to read and reconstruct the sound and video that is put into a code using grooves on the disk.
On a wider scale, III-V semiconductors can also help address some of the most important challenges faced by society. Their applications include developing renewable energy sources through high efficiency III-V solar cells, controlling climate change via reduced energy demand for electronics, improvements in healthcare through real-time breath analysis and counter-terrorism measures using the technology for explosives and weapon detection.
Research into these semiconductors has been taking place at the University’s facility – which benefited from a University-funded £6.5 million clean room in 2006 – for 32 years. Nearly, 800 scientific publications have been produced from facility output over the last ten years. The facility serves all universities and researchers across the UK, enabling top-rate scientific research in the physical, engineering and biomedical sciences. Current applied projects include studies of solar cells via QuantaSol, a spin-out company from Imperial College and the University of Sheffield, which uses a technique for the production of high efficiency solar cells.
The facility is also highly active in the development of a more efficient production technique for quantum cascade lasers. These are used for gas detection, pollution monitoring and oil exploration as the technology can detect very small quantities of gases given off by oil deposits. Possible other uses for this technology in the future include its use in car exhausts to monitor pollutants and feedback to the engine to adjust fuel flow, reducing emissions and improving efficiency.
Professor Peter Houston, Director of the EPSRC National Centre for III-V Technologies at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, said: “We are extremely pleased to receive this investment which will enable us to continue our long tradition of enabling very high quality UK academic research in this field. Much of the research will result in improvements in quality of life for everyone in the future.”
The facility’s work on high efficiency III-V solar cells comes as the University of Sheffield launches a unique venture entitled Project Sunshine. The project aims to unite scientists in finding ways to harness the power of the sun and tackle one of the biggest challenges facing the world today: meeting the increasing food and energy needs of the world’s population in the context of an uncertain climate and global environment change. To find out more, visit: www.shine.sheffield.ac.uk/
The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield is one of the largest in the UK. Its seven departments include over 2,500 students and 700 staff and have research-related income worth more than £40 million per annum from government, industry and charity sources. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise confirmed that two-thirds of their research was in the top two categories of Internationally Excellent or Internationally Leading. In the 2008 National Student Survey, 93 percent of graduates expressed satisfaction with their courses, placing the faculty equal first in the UK. The faculty has a long tradition of working with industry as exemplified by the award-winning Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the new £25 million Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. To find out more, visit: www.shef.ac.uk/faculty/engineering/