A Sêr Cymru lecturer in Advanced Materials and Devices has won a prestigious New Investigator Award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Dr Qiang Li’s research focuses on the development of a crystal growth process, or epitaxy, to enable the direct integration of Compound Semiconductor (CS) devices on silicon wafers.
Modern digital technologies – from smart phones to routers and computers – rely on information being transmitted and received rapidly within and across chips.
With increasing volumes of data, faster speeds are required. Traditional copper wire electrical interconnects are reaching their limits, but optical interconnects that transfer data as pulses of light (photons) promise to break this bottleneck.
Whilst traditional silicon is a poor light emitter, compound semiconductors such as indium phosphide are far more efficient at releasing photons (light) when electrically excited.
Dr Li is part of the Ser Cymru Research Group in the School of Physics and Astronomy. His work will focus on the development of a crystal growth process, or epitaxy, that will enable the direct integration of compound semiconductor devices on silicon wafers.
Experts believe efficient optical interconnects can be achieved through the direct growth of compound semiconductor devices on a mature silicon platform, producing cheaper, faster chips. Until now, it has been necessary to introduce buffers between the two materials, but this lengthens the manufacturing processes and brings challenges in combining different device components.
Working with project partners IQE plc, Rockley Photonics Ltd and the University of Macau, Qiang Li’s research aims to develop an epitaxial process that will grow compound semiconductor materials directly upon silicon wafers without the need for complex buffers.
This will be achieved by selective and confined epitaxy, a process Dr Li pioneered himself, that makes use of the geometric arrangements of atoms.
“Compound semiconductors already complement silicon in many niche applications like 3D sensing and wireless communications,” said Dr Li.
“Through this project, we aim to explore a more creative approach to combine their unique physical properties with the silicon manufacturing platform.”
Professor Diana Huffaker, Sêr Cymru Chair in Advanced Engineering and Materials said “Dr Li is a very talented young researcher with an international network. He was headhunted to bring the III-V/Si epitaxy capability into the Ser Cymru Research Group. The EPSRC Award will serve as a foundation for him to launch his successful career at Cardiff.”
Competitively awarded by the EPSRC, New Investigator Awards are granted to support and develop the research careers of talented individuals who hold an academic lectureship position, but have not previously led a research group. The award gives them an opportunity to manage a grant, establish and lead their own research team and assert their research independence. It will enable Dr Li to recruit a postdoctoral researcher, develop an internationally competitive research program at Cardiff and build wider collaborations within UK semiconductor community.
Granting the award, EPSRC said “It is an ambitious endeavour to develop this method to a point that allows the creation of useful integrated InP photonics on silicon. The proposal is highly relevant to Manufacturing the Future, and offers significant opportunities for the compound semiconductor cluster in Cardiff.”