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College of Engineering faculty receive multi-million dollar research grant from United States Air Force

The Boise State Advanced Nanomaterials and Manufacturing Laboratory and NextFlex, a Department of Defense-sponsored Manufacturing USA Institute, received a $4.3 million grant from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to enable advanced manufacturing of flexible hybrid electronics using mixed dimensional materials.

David Estrada, Boise State’s Associate Director for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies and Associate Professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering, leads the program to enable the fundamental science necessary to expedite the manufacturing, maintenance, and repair of sensors and systems critical to ensuring global persistent awareness, resilient information sharing, and the speed and reach of U.S. Air Force missions.

“This award will position our team to advance semiconductor manufacturing techniques which may currently not be well suited for processing atomically thin films,” said Estrada. “We hope with this research infrastructure we can overcome challenges that limit large scale synthesis of 2D materials and make them compatible with the full semiconductor device process flow.”

A major portion of the grant funds new infrastructure at Boise State University, including an AIXTRON Close Coupled Showerhead ®  Metal Organic Vapor Phase Epitaxy system (CCS®  MOVPE) which will be housed in the Micron Center for Materials Research. The carbon-neutral company’s tool is capable of wafer-scale growth of atomically thin semiconductor materials as well as more traditional semiconductor films.

It is expected to be the only such system at a U.S. university dedicated and configured for wafer-scale 2-dimensional materials growth and compound semiconductor growth. Infrastructure investments are needed to prepare the future semiconductor workforce at the undergraduate and graduate levels for U.S.-based semiconductor manufacturers.

“The transistor was invented in America, yet today the U.S. share of global semiconductor manufacturing is only around 10 percent,” said Estrada. “The CHIPS for America Act, recently passed by congress, recognizes the continued investment in research and radically new semiconductor manufacturing methods to be strategically important to our economy and national security.”

The research group leverages the unique physical and chemical properties, artificial intelligence algorithms, and new and non-traditional microfabrication techniques for the creation of optoelectronic devices, interconnects, waveguides, and other devices optimized for sensor applications.

“These manufacturing bottlenecks limit our understanding of the nature of 2-dimensional interfaces, low-resistance contacts, and their applicability in emerging memory, photonics, and flexible electronic devices,” said Harish Subbaraman, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Co-Investigator. “This investment will help us demonstrate the potential of integrating 2-dimensional materials with 3-dimensional semiconductors to overcome some of these key challenges and advance the U.S. semiconductor industry.”

Estrada and Subbaraman also received a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant with Penn State University and Rice University to establish Phase 2 of The Center for Atomically Thin Multifunctional Coatings (ATOMIC) Industry University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC).

The new infrastructure enabled by this grant, as well as other recent investments by the Murdock Charitable Trust, contribute to a rapidly evolving landscape for 2-dimensional materials research at Boise State University, and encourages increased scientific collaboration between academia and industry.

“We are happy to strengthen our bonds with the United States and the academic world by providing an industrial-grade research and development reactor to Boise State University,” said Michael Heuken, Vice President Advanced Technologies at AIXTRON. “The CCS 3×2 delivers best in class results for 2D-materials and compound semiconductors at wafer scale in multiple applications.”