Description of Cressler’s Research Program
The semiconductor industry currently fuels the >$1T global electronics market, and by any measure is the fundamental driving force behind the birth of Information Age and the subsequent Communications Revolution which is so powerfully re-shaping our civilization. About 95% of that >$200B microelectronics market rests squarely on the semiconductor silicon (Si). Si is a material uniquely suited to building microelectronic devices (e.g., transistors) is a highly manufacturable, mass production environment. This is the real reason we have over 600 million computers, the internet, and are approaching one billion cell phones today. In the 60 years since the invention of the transistor (the core building block for all electronic systems), the Si transistor “population” has gone from 0 to approximately 1×10^19 (10,000,000,000,000,000,000!), following well-known Moore’s Law exponential growth patterns which are unprecedented in human history. Hence the Information Age and the Communications Revolution.
As fine a material for low-cost mass production as Si is, however, it has well-known speed limits, and we are rapidly reaching the point of those fundamental performance barriers. Clearly no one can afford to have the electronics industry come to a grinding halt. These looming limitations of Si microelectronics represent a unique research challenge for defining “what comes next.” My research team at Georgia Tech works on this problem of helping to best define the future path of electronic devices; next generation electronics. Our research focus at present is on demonstrating the efficacy of applying nano-scale engineering techniques (i.e., nanotechnology) to conventional (mass-production capable) Si-based electronic devices, by the clever combination of different semiconductors (in our case, germanium – Ge) on an atomic level, to effectively “speed-up” conventional Si transistors. Such nano-engineered Si-Ge transistors possess far superior speeds than conventional Si devices, while (importantly) preserving the enormous economic advantages associated with conventional Si manufacturing. Si-Ge potentially represents a win-win scenario for the global $1T electronics industry. My Georgia Tech research team, the largest university research team in this field in the world, has recently, in collaboration with IBM Corporation, achieved the world record speed for such a Si-Ge transistor, over 500 GHz (500,000,000,000 cycles per second), generating significant worldwide press (the article was cited as the top story of 2006 by EE Times). While this device is clearly a research prototype, and much is to be done still, the result squarely points to a viable path forward for the future of the electronic communications industry. We work closely with the major players in the microelectronics industry (IBM, Texas Instruments, National Semiconductor, etc.) to help forge a path forward for Si-Ge devices into commercial production, and that is already beginning to occur. My team also works hard to re-imagine how the existence of such ultra-high-speed electronic devices can potentially change the “business-as-usual” approach to building electronic systems, and some of our current research centers on applying such nano-engineered Si-Ge devices such diverse application as electronic systems for lunar and space exploration (NASA), ultra-high-speed broadband mm-wave communications systems, radar systems, satellite communications systems, and a host of defense-related high-speed electronics needs. It is exciting work, and we eagerly anticipate helping define the future course of this field.
Last revised April 3, 2007