Lancaster University

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£240,000 grant to develop the next generation of electronics

09/15/2006 11:17:03

Lancaster University’s Engineering Department has won a £240,000 grant to develop the next generation of electronic systems based on Micro and Nano Technology.

Prof Andrew Richardson and Dr Norbert Dumas from the Engineering Department have been awarded the grant from the EPSRC Innovative Electronics Manufacturing Centre to develop built-in “Health Monitors” for “System in Package” technologies.

System-in-package technology is an extension of the multi-chip module concept providing additional integration possibilities through chip stacking and 3D assembly, together with an opportunity to mix electronic, micromechanical, optical and bio-chemical technologies.

Prof Richardson, group leader of the Centre for Microsystems Engineering, said: “Systems in Package technology is the next generation of complexity in electronic systems. It allows us to combine silicon chips together in a much more compact unit and opens up the possibility of putting non-electrical functions inside.

“With this technology, you could in the future foresee blood sugar monitors built into your watch for diabetes sufferers or pollution and UV sensors in your mobile phone to inform you of the danger of sunburn or toxic substances in the air.

“The problem is that micro and nanotechnologies and the associated silicon chips have tiny dimensions and are very sensitive to a range of sources of stress caused by the environment we live in. To make it even more challenging, the systems that these technologies will enable also contain millions of these minute components, hence making the devices with all of these components working is a major challenge.”

The team at Lancaster will work with a team at Greenwich and Heriot Watt Universities to address these reliability and manufacturing issues.The work will focus on modelling sources of failure and developing a “health monitoring” capability that can be built into the systems to sense thermo-mechanical, electromagnetic and chemical stress that could lead to system failure.

Prof Richardson said: “As electronic systems get more complex, they take over more and more tasks that used to be carried out by humans, so they have to become more reliable. Soon we will see cars with electronics deciding how hard the brakes should be applied in response to your foot pressing the brake pedal. Imagine the implications of faults here?

“We’re developing “health monitoring” capabilities for these systems to provide the companies with an ability to build electronic chips and packages that are both “self aware” and can monitor their environment. For example, a wireless sensor that could record vibration levels and temperature extremes in an aircraft engine.”

Results of the project will be made available to several new technology transfer activities being created by Prof Richardson’s team in the Engineering Department.These initiatives pull together clusters of experts willing to share their expertise with industry.

The project will be carried out in collaboration with what was until recently Philips Semiconductors, now NXP, Flomerics, MicroCircuit Engineering, Coventor, Selex Sensors and Airborne Systems and Qinetiq.