Skip to main content

Estrada, partners aim to advance the future of semiconductor manufacturing

Earlier this year, the National Science Foundation invested over $30 million in 21 projects, involving 100 institutions in 20 states through its Future Manufacturing program. Aligned to national priorities outlined by the White House in the new U.S. National Strategy for Advanced Manufacturing, this program aims to enable manufacturing capabilities that do not exist today. The new Advanced Manufacturing strategy outlines goals and objectives to advance microelectronics and semiconductor manufacturing, biomanufacturing, smart manufacturing, and also to develop innovative materials and processes for manufacturing.

David Estrada, associate professor of materials science and engineering, has partnered with the University of Washington, Eastern Washington University, the University of Pittsburgh and Micron Technology (Advisory Board) on a $500,000 seed grant under the Future Manufacturing program to explore the feasibility of integrating two-dimensional materials with DNA nanotechnology as a new approach to manufacturing computer memory, a critical component in modern computing and data storage.

“One of the greatest challenges facing the information and communications technology ecosystem is the amount of energy required to process and store the tremendous amounts of data we produce,” Estrada said. “By some estimates, the worlds information and communications technology infrastructure will consume more energy than is produced by the global fleet of nuclear reactors.”

Estrada’s goal is to develop new materials and computing architectures that can address this global challenge at the single transistor level, which will have a broader impact on the information and communications technology ecosystem.

Turning to DNA for help

Currently, memory technologies are made from silicon wafers, which require expensive instruments to pattern. It is also increasingly difficult to shrink the size of the memory devices using this approach and the industry has invested heavily to push the limits of advanced semiconductor manufacturing to achieve features that are about two to three times larger than the diameter of DNA. Led by Haitao Liu, professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, the team aims to leverage DNA’s self-assembly properties and “two-dimensional” materials to overcome this manufacturing bottleneck.

These materials are a class that are one to three atoms thick and have exhibited outstanding electrical, thermal and optical properties. The team plans to leverage DNA’s size and self-assembly properties to create self-assembled nanometer-scale templates to pattern and modify two-dimensional materials in order to fabricate synaptic memory devices. The devices are critical to enable energy-efficient computing architectures that mimic the human brain.

The team will also develop atomistic models to understand the material and device behaviors, while developing education and workforce development activities, designed to highlight the integration of biology, chemistry, physics and engineering as a potential career path towards the future manufacturing of semiconductor devices.