Micron invests additional $775,000 in combinatorial research lab at the UW

Micron invested an additional $775,000 in the Micron Laboratory for Combinatorial Materials Exploration at the UW in February.

The funds will help the lab pursue its goal to test new combinations of materials for use in smaller and smaller microchips.

A total of $575,000 will go toward equipment and $200,000 will help support the work of Fumio Ohuchi, lab director and UW professor of materials science and engineering, and his collaborators.

The lab opened on March 19, 2007. Boise-based Micron Technology Inc., manufacturer of memory chips and image sensors, and the Micron Foundation helped launch the innovative new lab with more than $400,000 in equipment and $500,000 in cash.

The computer chip industry is facing a predicament: as chips get smaller they are reaching a physical limit. Today’s semiconductor devices are made of parts containing just a few hundred atoms of silicon and other materials. As consumers demand even faster and smaller devices, nanoscale effects will change how these materials behave.

“Silicon is still an absolutely good material for the active area, where the electrons travel,” Ohuchi said. “The supporting material, the surrounding scaffold, will have to change as we push the technical limit. Smaller devices require new combinations of materials.”

The Micron lab’s machines automate materials testing by creating a wafer, called a materials library, whose properties change gradually. By layering these wafers, a single test can evaluate all possible combinations of important factors—such as manufacturing process, material composition and atomic structure—to see which produce the best attributes. The word “combinatorial” in the lab’s name refers to this system for combining different materials.

The lab is part of Micron’s efforts to advance education, primarily in science and engineering, by establishing strategic partnerships with premier research universities.

“By collaborating with the UW on combinatorial materials, we have a unique opportunity to enhance advanced research activities that continue to drive material development efforts and digital technology innovation,” said Scott DeBoer, Micron’s director of process development.

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