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UGA to share in $1.5 million NSF grant to reduce size of integrated circuits

The University of Georgia will share in a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Centers for Chemical Innovation for research that focuses on the question of how to use molecules to replace bulk materials as components in integrated circuits.

The studies could help find new ways to shrink the size of electronic components and thus the devices they power and operate. UGA is sharing the grant with the University of Florida and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. If the team makes sufficient progress, it will then be eligible for a second grant worth as much as $20 million, said Marcus Lay, an assistant professor of chemistry who leads UGA’s efforts as part of the new NSF Centerfor Nanostructured Electronic Materials.

“The dramatic improvements of electronic device performance have been a direct consequence of steady improvements in ‘top-down’ methods to fabricate integrated circuits [IC’s], but feature sizes are rapidly approaching the limits of traditional silicon-based methods,” said Lay.

Molecular electronics, which substitute nanoparticles and molecule-based structures in place of bulk materials currently used in IC’s, offer the potential to address these challenges. Unleashing this potential will require new fabrication methods that allow control of the location, dimension and orientation of nanomaterials at the molecular level.

In addition to his position in the department of chemistry in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Lay is on the UGA Faculty of Engineering and a member of the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.

The research takes advantage of the lessons learned from decades of research on microelectronic devices but substitutes carbon nanotubes, graphene, metal nanoparticles, conductive molecules and other molecule-based materials in place of the silicon, copper, oxide dielectric and other bulk materials in current ICs. 

The initial focus of the research will be in two-dimensional directional growth with novel use of chemical precursors and synthetic methods that exploit the optical properties of nanoparticles for selective growth of material at specific locations.    

“This research will foster close collaborations between experts in the development of new nanoscale electronic materials and specialists in the creation of prototypes with direct technological relevance,” said Lay. “We and our collaborators will team up with industrial mentors from companies on the forefront of development of molecular electronics, who will provide an industrial perspective on materials requirements, device design and manufacturing.”  

The focus of the Center for Nanostructured Electronic Materials on chemistry-based approaches to nanoscale electronics for applications in the microelectronics industry is a crucial component of America’s competitive edge in technology, Lay said.

The center also will educate students for interdisciplinary collaborative work by building team-based problem solving skills that reach outside the students’ own disciplines. Internships, mentoring of undergraduate researchers and interactions with industrial research personnel will be used to further broaden the students’ perspectives.

In order to communicate the excitement of science to the general public, the new research project will develop a series of two-minute radio spots and podcasts that will feature real world applications of chemistry and materials science research. To enable broader participation by under-represented groups, the team also will partner with programs at the three universities to mentor minority and female undergraduates and doctoral students.

Lay received his Ph.D. from UGA in 2003. He was a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., from 2003 to 2004 and a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University from 2004 to 2005, before joining the faculty at UGA in 2005.

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