SUNY Poly awarded $720,000 by U.S. Department of Energy for next-generation semiconductor research

SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly) announced today that Interim Dean of Graduate Studies Dr. Fatemeh (Shadi) Shahedipour-Sandvik and her team of collaborators have been selected to receive $720,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The grant will be used to develop more efficient and powerful high-performance power switches at SUNY Poly for power electronics applications, such as for enabling a more efficient energy grid, for example. The research is in partnership with Dr. Woongje Sung of SUNY Poly, the Army Research Lab, Drexel University, and Gyrotron Technology, Inc.

“On behalf of SUNY Poly, I am excited to congratulate Professor Shahedipour-Sandvik as her wide-bandgap-focused research is recognized by the Department of Energy for its potential to improve power devices that are all around us to make our technological world more energy efficient and robust,” said SUNY Poly Interim President Dr. Bahgat Sammakia. “This award highlights SUNY Poly’s unique and advanced research capabilities, as well as its superb faculty who are developing the innovations of tomorrow right now in New York State.”

“This award is a strong indicator of how SUNY Poly’s resources and facilities are enabling the types of research that have the potential to improve power electronics devices which have become ubiquitous, from those utilized to make the power grid more efficient, to those that can improve electric car capabilities,” said SUNY Poly Vice President of Research Dr. Michael Liehr.

“I am proud that the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E has recognized our leading-edge power electronics-focused research, which holds the incredible potential to drive innovation for practical applications that could lead to worldwide energy savings. Advanced power electronic devices offer significant advances in power density, efficiency, and reduced total lifecycle cost,” said Prof. Shahedipour-Sandvik. “This grant allowing our SUNY Poly team and partners at the Army Research Lab, Drexel University and Gyrotron Technology, Inc. to explore advanced doping and annealing techniques for gallium nitride-based power devices is a testament to how SUNY Poly’s resources and leadership in areas like power electronics can help power the future in exciting and meaningful ways.” 

The SUNY Poly grant is part of a total of $6.9 million in funding that the U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E is providing through its Power Nitride Doping Innovation Offers Devices Enabling SWITCHES (PNDIODES) program to seven institutions and organizations. With PNDIODES, ARPA-E is tackling a specific challenge in wide-bandgap semiconductor production. Wide-bandgap semiconductors are an important area of research because the materials, such as gallium nitride (GaN), allow for electronic devices to operate at higher temperatures and/or frequencies, for example, than current silicon-based computer chips, which is why technical advances in power electronics promise energy efficiency gains throughout the United States economy. Achieving high power conversion efficiency in these systems, however, requires low-loss power semiconductor switches. Power converters based on GaN could potentially meet the challenge by enabling higher voltage devices with improved efficiency—while also dramatically reducing size and weight of the device, for example.

The PNDIODES-funded research focuses on a process called selective area doping, in which a specific impurity is added to a semiconductor to change its electrical properties and achieve performance characteristics that are useful for electronics. Implemented well, this process can allow for the fabrication of devices at a competitive cost compared to their traditional, silicon-based counterparts. Developing a reliable and usable doping process that can be applied to specific regions of GaN and its alloys is an important obstacle in the fabrication of GaN-based power electronics devices that PNDIODES seeks to overcome. Ultimately, the PNDIODES project teams, including the Shahedipour-Sandvik team and Dr. Sung at SUNY Poly as well as the institution’s partners, will develop new ways to build semiconductors for high performance, high-powered applications like aerospace, electric vehicles, and the grid.

Prof. Shahedipour-Sandkvik team’s research, “Demonstration of PN-junctions by ion implantation techniques for GaN (DOPING-GaN),” will focus on ion implantation as the centerpiece of its approach and use new annealing techniques to develop processes to activate implanted silicon or magnesium in GaN to build p-n junctions, which are used to control the flow of electrons within an integrated circuit. Utilizing a unique technique with a gyrotron beam, a high-power vacuum tube that generates millimeter-wave electromagnetic waves, the team’s research aims to understand the impact of implantation on the microstructural properties of the GaN material and its effects on p-n diode performance.

In addition to this GaN-focused research being conducted by Prof. Shahedipour and her team at SUNY Poly, which also provides hands-on research opportunities for a number of the institution’s students, SUNY Poly and General Electric also lead the New York Power Electronics Manufacturing Consortium (NY-PEMC) with the goal of developing and producing low cost, high performance 6″ silicon carbide (SiC) wafers for power electronics applications. The consortium announced its first successful production of SiC-based patterned wafers in February at the Albany NanoTech Complex’s 150mm SiC line, with production coordinated with SUNY Poly’s Computer Chip Commercialization Center (Quad-C), located at its Utica campus where the SiC-based power chips will be packaged, a process that combines them with a housing that allows for interconnection with an application.

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