State-of-the-Art Technology Flashes
Updates in silicon and electronics technology.
Ed.: This is a special feature courtesy of Binghamton University.
IBM unveils world’s first 2nm chip technology. SIBM announced a breakthrough in semiconductor design and process with the development of the world’s first chip announced with 2nm nanosheet technology. The new design is projected to achieve 45% higher performance and 75% lower energy use than today’s 7nm chips. IBM said this new frontier in chip technology will accelerate advancements in AI, 5G and 6G, edge computing, autonomous systems, space exploration, and quantum computing. The technology would likely not be in high volume production until 2024. (IEEC file #12281, Semiconductor Digest, 4/27/21)
microscopic and x-ray views of 2nm chip technology
“Egg carton” quantum dot array could lead to ultralow power devices. University of Michigan researchers have developed a new approach by sending and receiving information with single photons of light using a “quantum egg carton” that captures and releases photons, supporting “excited” quantum states while it possesses the extra energy. Their experiment demonstrated the effect known as nonlinearity to modify and detect extremely weak light signals. This takes advantage of distinct changes to a quantum system to advance next-generation computing. As silicon-electronics-based information technology becomes increasingly throttled by heating and energy consumption, nonlinear optics is a potential solution. (IEEC file #12154, Science Daily, 3/4/21)

Waveguide design enables transmission of two types of light. Vanderbilt University researchers have developed a method of simultaneously transmitting two types of optical signals across a single chip. The work enables a dramatic increase in the volume of data a silicon chip can transmit over any period, and directly supports “lab-on-a-chip” capabilities. The number of waveguide channels, limited by space on a chip, defines the number of signals a chip can process. The hybrid hyperbolic-silicon photonic waveguide leverages the optical properties of both materials. In the mid-IF, the hBN crustal is able to support an optical mode called a hyperbolic phonon polariton, which permits the long-wavelength mid-IR to be focused and transmitted within deeply subwavelength structures and slabs. (IEEC file #12162, Photonics Media 3/5/21)

graphic illustration of waveguide design with two types of light
Aluminum-ion batteries offer promise. University of Nebraska researchers have developed a battery made with a pure aluminum anode, a graphene cathode, and an organic electrolyte. Aluminum-ion batteries promise significant improvements over lithium-ion technology. The ability to exchange three electrons per ion, compared to lithium’s one, brings the potential for higher storage capacity. Al-ion batteries could also use cheaper/abundant materials, avoiding many of the issues that continue to plague Li-ion supply chains. A battery capable of both high storage capacity and ultrafast charging could open applications for energy storage, bridging the gap between battery and supercapacitor. (IEEC file #12177, Science Daily, 3/12/21)

Silicon photonics startup focuses on connectivity. Teramount (Israel) researchers have developed fiber-to-silicon connectivity solutions for ultra-high bandwidth applications and demonstrated a 100x improvement in tolerance for assembling fiber to silicon chips. This breakthrough photonic-plug technology can enable next–generation technology for silicon photonics in data centers, mobility 5G and beyond. The approach simplified the packaging of silicon photonics chips by using a form of passive alignment instead of active alignment. The solution involves two main elements: a PhotonicsPlug that is flip-chipped on to the silicon photonics die while still part of a wafer; and a “bump” design element added to the silicon photonics chip next to the optical waveguide. (IEEC file #12184, EE Times, 3/18/21)

a co-packaged switch with hundreds of fiber connections
Rare open-access quantum computer now operational. A Department of Energy open-access quantum computing testbed is ready for the public. Indiana University researchers recently became the first to begin using Sandia National Labs’ Quantum Scientific Computing Open User Testbed, or QSCOUT. Quantum computers are poised to become major technological drivers over the coming decades. Scientists can use Sandia’s QSCOUT for research that might not be possible at their home institutions, without the cost or restrictions of using a commercial testbed. “QSCOUT serves a need in the quantum community by giving users the controls to study the machine itself, which aren’t yet available in commercial quantum computing systems.” (IEEC file #12180, R&D World, 3/17/21)

Plastic solar cells combine high-speed optical communication with energy harvesting. University of St Andrews resaerchers have demonstrated a plastic solar panel that combines indoor optical energy harvesting with simultaneously receiving multiple high-speed data signals by multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) visible light communications (VLC). This is an important step for future self-powered data-connected devices. They demonstrated that organic photovoltaics (OPVs) are suitable for high-speed optical data receivers that can also harvest power. A panel of four OPV cells was used in an optical wireless communication experiment, receiving a data rate of 363Mb/s from an array of four laser diodes while simultaneously harvesting 11mW of optical power. (IEEC file #12178, Science Codex, 3/2/21)

schematic of the OPV device
Heat conduction record with tantalum nitride. Removal of heat from computer chips requires materials that are extremely good at conducting heat. Vienna University of Technology researchers have analyzed materials on an atomic level and found an excellent new heat conductor: theta-phase tantalum nitride (hexagonal θ-phase of tantalum nitride). The combination with nitrogen and the special atomic scale geometry makes the phase metallic, and it suppresses interactions of the heat-carrying vibrations with other vibrations and with the conducting electrons. It is those interactions that inhibit heat conduction in other materials. This form of tantalum nitride combines several important advantages, making it a record-breaking material with a thermal conductivity several times higher than silver and comparable to diamond. (IEEC file #12205, Science Daily, 3/31/21)

A breakthrough that enables practical semiconductor spintronics. It may be possible in the future to use information technology where electron spin is used to store, process and transfer information in quantum computers. Linköping University researchers have constructed a semiconductor component in which information can be efficiently exchanged between electron spin and light at room temperature. Quantum dots are considered to have a great potential as an interface to transfer information between electron spin and light, as will be necessary in spintronics and quantum computing. They demonstrated using an adjacent spin filter to control the electron spin of the quantum dots remotely. The quantum dots are made from indium arsenide (InAs), and a layer of gallium nitrogen arsenide (GaNAs) functions as a filter of spin. A layer of gallium arsenide (GaAs) is sandwiched between them. (IEEC file #12221, Science Daily, 4/8/21)

Miniaturized stacked die QFN for tire pressure monitoring system applications. Starting in the mid-2000s, active Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) have been mandated on many vehicles worldwide. The first systems were large and bulky, with significant electronics content. Since that time systems have become gotten more energy-efficient and form factors have decreased dramatically. Researchers from NXP Semiconductors have miniaturized a 1.0mm pitch, 7x7mm package size 24-lead stacked-die QFN down to a 4×4 mm package size QFN with 0.5mm pitch while still meeting automotive AEC Grade 1 reliability requirements. The three stacked die consisted of an ASIC, pressure sensor, and accelerometer. (IEEC file #12182, SMTA, 3/17/21)

schematic of miniaturized stacked die QFN
Market Trends
The future of solar technology: New technology makes foldable cells a practical reality. With the recent development of foldable mobile phone screens, research on foldable electronics continues to be intensive. One key application of the foldable technology is in solar panels. A requirement for this is the ability to withstand the pressure of bending within a very small radius while maintaining its integrity and properties. Pusan National University researchers are developing solutions using single-walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) films. They embedded the conducting layer into a polyimide substrate, filling the void spaces in the nanotubes. Their resulting prototype is 7 micrometers thick, and the composite film exhibited exceptional resistance to bending, 80% transparency, and a power conversion efficiency of 15.2%. (IEEC file #12130, Semiconductor Digest, 2/10/21)

AI commission proposes $32 billion in AI research. The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence has approved a report on the path ahead to bolster US superiority in AI. The proposal calls for US funding of $32 billion in non-defense federal research by 2026. By 2025, the DoD and the intelligence community must be AI-ready. They dinged China for its domestic use of AI in facial recognition and related surveillance technologies. China’s domestic use of AI is a chilling precedent for anyone around the world who cherishes individual liberty. Its employment of AI as a tool of repression and surveillance – at home and increasingly abroad – is a powerful counterpoint to how we believe AI should be used. (IEEC file #12164, Fierce Electronics, 3/5/21)

Lithium-ion battery market size to be worth $83.36 billion by 2027. The global lithium-ion battery market size is expected to reach $83.36 billion by 2027. Emergence and increasing popularity for electric vehicles (EV) is expected to drive the demand for lithium-ion battery in automotive industry. The automotive industry has been witnessing a palpable shift from using nickel metal batteries to lithium-ion batteries in plug-in vehicles and EVs. Beneficial physical characteristics such as small size and lightweight have bolstered the demand for li-ion (lithium-ion) batteries across the automotive industry. The development of energy storage technologies is enabling battery manufacturers to introduce advanced li-ion batteries that are compatible with the next-generation battery-operated, electronic products. Currently, various types of li-ion batteries, such as li-manganese oxide, li-ion phosphate, li-nickel manganese cobalt oxide, and li-cobalt oxide have high demand as advanced li-ion batteries across end-user industries. (IEEC file #12165, Semiconductor Digest, 3/8/21)

New Maine ferry to be hybrid electric. Casco Bay Lines has committed to an integrated hybrid-electric power and propulsion solution for its new vessel. The new 50-meter ferry will feature ABB Marine & Ports’ hybrid power, propulsion and a shore charging system, supporting diesel-electric and zero-emissions battery-powered modes, as well as a combination of both. The vessel is expected to cut up to 800 tons of carbon dioxide per year, helping to improve air quality in Portland, Maine. Momentum for lower carbon footprint ferry operations continues to grow worldwide, and more US operators are replacing obsolete vessels to match regulatory and societal demands. (IEEC file #12171, Science Daily, 3/9/21)

aerial view mockup of new hybrid Maine ferry
Huge potential for electronic textiles made with new cellulose thread. Electronic textiles offer revolutionary new opportunities in various fields, in particular healthcare. Chalmers University of Technology researchers have developed a thread made of conductive cellulose, which offers fascinating and practical possibilities for electronic textiles. Sewing the electrically conductive cellulose threads into a fabric using a standard sewing machine, they succeeded in producing a thermoelectric textile that produces a small amount of electricity when heated. At a temperature difference of 37oC, the textile can generate 0.2mW of electricity. This cellulose thread could lead to garments with built-in electronic, smart functions, made from nontoxic, renewable and natural materials. (IEEC file #12173, Science Daily, 3/10/21)

SiC and GaN due for rapid expansion. TrendForce expects three factors to drive the rapid growth of the GaN and SiC markets in 2021 they are: Widespread vaccinations are projected to drastically curb the spread of the pandemic, thereby galvanizing a stable increase in the demand for base station components such as power inverters, Tesla began adopting SiC MOSFET designs for its in-house inverters the automotive industry has started to place increasing importance on third generation semiconductors, China will invest enormous capital into its 14th five-year plan starting this year. The total yearly revenue from GaN RF devices in 2021 is projected to reach $680 million, a 30.8% increase year-over-year, whereas GaN power device revenue is projected to reach $61 million, a 90.6% increase year-over-year. (IEEC file #12186, Electronics Weekly, 3/15/21)

Smell sensor combines biology with electronics. University of Tokyo researchers have combined biological smell sensors with an electrochemical electrode system to make a smell sensor. The sensor could detect concentrations on the order of parts per billion. The active part is a partnership or two of roughly sausage-shaped receptors normally found in cells of yellow fever mosquitoes – an “olfactory receptor,” which can detect a chemical, and an “olfactory receptor co-receptor,” which has an adjustable ion channel through its length. When they lie next to each other through the thickness of a membrane, if the olfactory receptor comes in contact with a molecule it is sensitive to, it triggers the co-receptor to open its ion path briefly, chemically connecting one side of the membrane to the other. (IEEC file #12191, Electronics Weekly, 3/16/21)

schematic of smell sensor
Recent Patents
PCB assembly embedded thermal management using thin-film thermoelectric coolers (assignee: Honeywell), patent no. 10,939,537. Systems and methods for a printed circuit board assembly comprising a thermoelectric device at least partially embedded within the printed circuit board assembly are provided. The thermoelectric device is configured to adjust a temperature of the printed circuit board assembly based on the measurements of one or more sensors coupled to the printed circuit board assembly. Additionally, a control circuit is coupled to at least one thermoelectric device and one or more sensors, wherein the control circuit is configured to control at least one thermoelectric device,

Optical fiber system with photonic IC coupled to multicore optical fiber (assignee: Swanson Eric), patent no. 17/019229. Disclosed herein are optical integration technologies, designs, systems and methods directed toward optical coherence tomography (OCT) and other interferometric optical sensor, ranging and imaging systems wherein such systems, methods and structures employ tunable optical sources, coherent detection and other structures on a single or multichip monolithic integration. In contrast to contemporary, prior-art OCT systems and structures that employ simple, miniature optical bench technology using small optical components positioned on a substrate, systems and methods according to the present disclosure employ one or more photonic integrated circuits (PICs), use swept-source techniques, and employ a widely tunable optical source(s).

Semiconductor package having liquid-cooling lid (assignee: Raytheon), patent no. 16/989919. A semiconductor package includes a substrate; a die mounted on a top surface of the substrate in a flip-chip fashion; and a lid mounted on the die and on a perimeter of the substrate. The lid includes a cover plate and four walls formed integral with the cover plate. A liquid-cooling channel is situated between the cover plate of the lid and a rear surface of the die for circulating a coolant relative to the semiconductor package.

Stretchable Display Device (assignee: LG Display), patent no. 20210050404. A stretchable display device comprises a lower substrate; a plurality of island substrates spaced apart from each other and disposed on the lower substrate; a plurality of pixels defined on the plurality of island substrates; a plurality of base polymers disposed between adjacent island substrates of the plurality of island substrates; and a plurality of conductive particles distributed in the base polymer and electrically connecting a plurality of pads disposed on the adjacent island substrates.

Planar wafer-level fan-out of multichip modules having different size chips (assignee: IBM), patent no. 16/576,240. Package structures and methods are provided for constructing multichip package structures using semiconductor wafer-level fan-out techniques in conjunction with back-end-of-line fabrication methods to integrate different size chips into a planar package structure. The packaging techniques consider intra-chip thickness variations and inter-chip thickness differences and utilize standard back-end-of-line fabrication methods and materials to account for such thickness variations and differences. In addition, the back-end-of-line techniques permit formation of multiple layers of wiring and interlayer vias, which provide high density chip-to-chip interconnect wiring for high-bandwidth I/O communication between the package chips, and redistribution layers to route power/ground connections.

Solder joints for board level reliability (assignee: to Xilinx), patent no. 10,930,611. An integrated circuit assembly having an improved solder connection, and methods for fabricating the same are provided that utilize platelets within the solder connections to inhibit solder connection failure, thus providing a more robust solder interface. In one example, an integrated circuit assembly is provided that includes a package substrate having a first plurality of contact pads exposed on a first surface of the package substrate and a second plurality of contact pads exposed on a second surface of the package substrate. The second plurality of contact pads have a pitch that is greater than a pitch of the first plurality of contact pads. Interconnect circuitry is disposed in the package substrate and couples the first and second of contact pads.

Gary Miller is technology analyst at IEEC, Binghamton University. He has over 40 years’ experience in electronic packaging. He previously was the chief mechanical engineer at Lockheed Martin;
The Integrated Electronics Engineering Center (IEEC) at Binghamton University is a New York Center of Advanced Technology (CAT) responsible for the advancement of electronics packaging. Its mission is to provide research into electronics packaging to enhance our partners’ products, improve reliability and understand why parts fail. Research thrusts are in 2.5/3-D packaging, automotive and harsh environments, bioelectronics, flexible and additive electronics, materials for packaging and energy storage, MEMS, photonics, power electronics, sensors, embedded electronics, and thermal challenges in electronic packaging. More information is available at