Monday, February 8, 2010

What is a "black silicon"?

In the industry, which manufactures solar cells, night vision devices, as well as digital cameras and camcorders, is planned to something that later could well be called "industrial revolution". It is the application of new material, now known as "black silicon". Himself material for over ten years old, but its commercial use can only start this year.

The ancestor of the new technology was Eric Mazur, an experimental physicist at Harvard University. A decade ago, he worked on the Pentagon's order - was engaged in studies of catalytic reactions on metal surfaces. As later described himself a scientist, at some point he "bored to death metal." Then Eric Mazur decided to slightly change the direction of research and experiment with other materials. Arm caught silicon semiconductors - and at that moment the researcher did not anticipate that this may give some practical results.

Anyway, Mazur helped him with the students began to irradiate silicon wafer short pulses of very high-power laser in the atmosphere of sulfur hexafluoride - the gas is typically used in chip manufacturing. After this procedure, the plate was black. Its study under an electron microscope showed that the silicon surface was dotted with many tiny cone-shaped protrusions.

Then, the researcher said colleagues from other institutions that held them processing a silicon wafer using pulsed laser in a special gas atmosphere leads to the formation of clusters and sharp protrusions on the surface of silicon. The resulting material is then employees Mazur dubbed "black silicon". But it soon became clear that he has a unique property - to absorb nearly all the light falling on it. That is, the albedo of "black silicon" tends to zero.

Such quality semiconductor material, it would be a sin not to use. And already the first experiments showed: "black silicon" is significantly greater than normal (untreated) for sensitivity in the visible range, and also gained the ability to perceive infrared radiation. These properties are in demand in such devices as solar cells, sensors, night vision devices, etc.

Further research and improved technology have led to the black silicon, obtained with the optimum combination of laser power and concentration of sulfur hexafluoride, has an extremely high sensitivity - in a 100-500 times higher than that of conventional silicon detector. The new material absorbs two times more visible light than conventional silicon, and is able to perceive infrared radiation, which can not grasp the representatives of the current generation of silicon detectors.

From a commercial point of view it is crucial that the technology of production wafers "black silicon" almost does not require retrofitting of existing modern semiconductor industry. That is, to begin production of revolutionary new capabilities for its digital cameras, night vision devices and solar panels do not need large investments in industrial equipment and, especially, the new factory.

What Americans have always been able to do well, it is to turn scientific discoveries into real money, "monetize" laboratory research. Described the opening was no exception. Even in 2005 specifically for the commercialization of the company was founded SiOnyx. However, the company itself is engaged in the production of "black silicon" (or products based on it) is not planned. The company's mission - to engage in further research on the topic of "black silicon", patent development, to bring technology to the stage of commercial application and to sell licenses to manufacturers. Actually, such a business plan used by many medium-sized IT-company. The most striking example - the company-developer of chips for mobile devices, ARM.

Director-General SiOnyx was Stephen Sailor, before that - as a member of the Harvard lab and specialist in semiconductor technology. In early 2006, the founder of SiOnyx included a number of researchers from Harvard, and in 2007 the young company received more than $ 11 million venture capital investment funds from Harris & Harris, Polaris Venture Partners and RedShift Ventures. The economic crisis has suspended, but not changed the ambitious plans of SiOnyx. However, issuing its own shares and to go beyond the financing of high-tech Nasdaq-listed company SiOnyx has not hurry.

Today, as its main research and production project SiOnyx calls "the creation of an inexpensive and widely scalable platform for detection of light in a broad spectral range. With its production will apply a patented process SiOnyx femtosecond laser engraving, allowing you to create on the surface of various materials light-guiding layer thickness of 300 nm.

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