Feb. 8, 2008 Engineering researchers from the University of Florida and Texas Instruments have crafted the world’s highest-frequency circuit made with a common type of semiconductor transistor, a step that could slash the price of detectors useful in earlier cancer detection and quicker pollution spotting.
The breakthrough was presented by University of Florida and Texas Instruments engineers February 6 at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.
Ken O, a UF professor of electrical and computer engineering and the lead researcher on the project, said his team had demonstrated a 410-gigahertz circuit using complementary metal oxide silicon, or CMOS, technology — the technology used to make many of the components in personal computers, cell phones and handheld electronic devices.
Measured in a UF laboratory using a circuit equipped with an on-circuit antenna the size of a pen tip, 410 gigahertz eclipses the previous record for CMOS circuits set in February 2006 by 200 gigahertz. More important, it is about 60 gigahertz higher than the previous record set using alternative but more expensive indium phosphide technology. Texas Instruments’ advanced manufacturing technology, known as the 45-nanometer CMOS process, serves as the foundation for the new circuit.
“This is probably the first time in 30 years that a silicon-based circuit has been shown to have a higher operating frequency than one based on indium phosphide and similar compounds,” O said. “This is exciting because if you can build these circuits, then you can build inexpensive detection and imaging systems for a range of applications. The result could reduce the cost for these systems by a factor of 100 or more.”
Ultra-high-frequency circuits have been created in the past, but only with exotic materials that are costly to manufacture. CMOS, by contrast, is the standard process used to make the majority of the circuits in the integrated circuit industry. That opens the door to widespread manufacture and distribution of the high-frequency circuits.
“There is a very rich applications space that is available, but nobody has been able to get there in the high-volume sense,” O said. “By leveraging Texas Instruments’ advanced process technology for manufacturing this circuit, the University of Florida and Texas Instruments demonstrate that through CMOS there is real possibility we will be able to do it in the next five years.”
These applications include, for example, always-on environmental monitoring equipment acutely sensitive to pollution, noxious gases or bioterrorism agents. In imaging, high-frequency circuits make possible techniques that can penetrate clothing to ”see” hidden weapons or plastic explosives. The circuit also can be used in medical equipment designed to facilitate early detection of skin and other cancers, and in industrial systems that monitor the coatings on pills to ensure they have the proper thickness and uniformity.
The other authors of the paper that is the source of this announcement are Eun-Young Seok, Changhua Cao, Dongha Shim, Daniel Arenas, and David Tanner, all of the University of Florida, and Chih-Ming Hung of Texas Instruments.
The circuit was demonstrated on Texas Instruments’ low-power 45-nanometer process technology. The process includes a number of techniques to deliver cost-effective multimillion transistor, system-on-circuit processors with the performance and lower power consumption required for processing advanced applications. While designed to extend battery life in portable products, the technology also offers the performance to handle advanced multimedia functionality in a tightly integrated design.
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