SRC launches synthetic biology research for novel semiconductor applications

Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), a university-research consortium for semiconductor technologies, today launched the Semiconductor Synthetic Biology (SSB) research program on hybrid bio-semiconductor systems to provide insights and opportunities for future information and communication technologies. The program will initially fund research at six universities: MIT, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Yale, Georgia Tech, Brigham Young and the University of Washington.

Funded by SRC’s Global Research Collaboration (GRC), SSB concentrates on synergies between synthetic biology and semiconductor technology that can foster exploratory, multi-disciplinary, longer-term university research leading to novel, breakthrough solutions for a wide range of industries. Results from the university research, guided by semiconductor industry needs, should significantly enhance and accelerate opportunities for advancing properties, design and applications for future generations of integrated circuits.

“The role of the SSB program is to stimulate non-traditional thinking about the issues facing the semiconductor industry, and these forward-looking projects will aggressively explore new dimensions for pairing biological activities and semiconductors to benefit society,” said Dr. Steven Hillenius, executive director for SRC-GRC. “We intend to seek new collaborative initiatives with the National Science Foundation and other agencies as part of the SSB program with the goal of producing disruptive information technologies for the future.”

The first stage of the new program will support six exploratory projects in three related, but distinct, areas: (1) Cytomorphic-Semiconductor Circuit Design that applies lessons from cell biology to new chip architectures and vice versa; (2) Bio-Electric Sensors, Actuators and Energy Sources dedicated to enabling hybrid semiconductor-biological systems; and (3) Molecular-precision Additive Fabrication that creates manufacturing processes at the few-nanometer scale that are inspired by biology. Results from this Stage 1 research program will be used to guide future generations of SSB research. Approximately $2.25M will be invested by SRC-GRC for Phase 1 research.

“University researchers welcome this academia-industry partnership to do long-term research,” said Professor Rahul Sarpeshkar of MIT. “Living cells can offer ground-breaking solutions to some hard problems faced by the semiconductor industry because they solved similar problems more than a billion years ago. Controlled chemical reactions and molecular flows in cells are the ultimate miniaturization of electronics to the atomic and molecular scale.”

Specific profiles of the three areas of research are:

Cytomorphic-Semiconductor Circuit Design

Designers for semiconductor circuits and systems have begun to look to biological sciences for new approaches to analog and digital design and to circuits and system architectures, especially for minimum-energy electronic systems. The term ‘cytomorphic electronics’ refers to electronic circuits and information processing inspired by the operation of chemical circuits and information processing in cells.

Bioelectric Sensors, Actuators and Energy Sources

Biological sensors have the potential to play an important role in multi-functional semiconductor systems. SRC plans to integrate live cells with CMOS technology and thus form a hybrid bio-semiconductor system that provides high signal sensitivity and specificity at low operating energy.

Molecular-precision Additive Fabrication

As the demands continue to grow for the most exacting pattern formation for semiconductor fabrication — and feature sizes shrink to the 5 nanometer (nm) regime — molecular-based self-assembly could offer an alternative to lithographically driven manufacturing. DNA can be used as an active agent to provide information content to guide structure formation. SRC plans to pursue processes that will both improve fabrication yields and provide purification of correctly formed structures to significantly reduce the occurrence of defects in making DNA nanostructures.

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