Lyding recognized for nanotechnology innovations

ECE News

Nathaniel Lash, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • ECE Professor Joseph Lyding received the 2012 IEEE Pioneer in Nanotechnology Award for advances in atomic resolution nanofabrication and discovery of the deuterium isotope effect.
  • One of Lyding's innovations was the discovery that deuterium could be used to extend the life of computer chips.
  • Lyding is now examining graphene and how it can be controlled.

ECE Professor Joseph Lyding (left) is the recipient of the 2012 IEEE Pioneer in Nanotechnology Award.
ECE Professor Joseph Lyding (left) is the recipient of the 2012 IEEE Pioneer in Nanotechnology Award.

ECE Professor Joseph W Lyding has been recognized as a trailblazer in the field of nanotechnology, with the 2012 IEEE Pioneer in Nanotechnology Award for his work that has touched many fields along the nanoscale. The award citations states: “For advances in atomic resolution nanofabrication and discovery of the deuterium isotope effect and its application to CMOS technology.”

The IEEE award recognizes Lyding’s career that began in 1984 when he joined ECE as an assistant professor. His research covers a large swath of nanotechnology, from developing an ultra-stable scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs)—for which he recently invented a method to sharpen STM probes to a radius of 1 nm – to more recent work on the cutting edge of promising carbon structures like nanotubes and graphene.

“There are thousands of papers on things that happen on the nanoscale. What there’s much less of is people taking discoveries in the realm of nanotechnology, and being able to convert them into products; real technology that people can use. And that’s where I’ve have some distinction,” said Lyding, a researcher in the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

The organization presented Lyding with the award on August 23 at the awards ceremony of the IEEE Nano 2012 Conference in Birmingham, UK, where he presented a Plenary talk entitled “Silicon-Based Nanofabrication: Progress, Challenges and Technology Spin-Offs.” As the first experimental lab to find a home in the Beckman Institute when it opened in 1989, Lyding’s STM lab has been at the forefront of nanotechnology, pioneering the ability to pattern silicon at the atomic level – and making some unexpected discoveries along the way.

“Generally the case, at least in my career, is things that turn out to be the most interesting are always unforeseen. They just pop up,” he said.

One of those unforeseen discoveries has been a remarkable boon for the semiconductor industry. While developing a hydrogen resist process where he used his STM’s beam of electrons to precisely blast hydrogen atoms off a silicon surface (a process now used worldwide), Lyding substituted hydrogen’s heavier isotope, deuterium. The isotope proved to be 50 to 100 times more difficult to remove, which, while not particularly useful for Lyding’s current lithography work, turned out to be the breakthrough industry was looking to combat hot-carrier effects, where electrons in transistors knock of hydrogen atoms vital to the device’s functionality. That “big hit” came through in a passing conversation with fellow researcher Karl Hess.

“I was just walking down the hall, and I decided to drop in and chat with him, instead of go down into the lab and fix a problem I had created,” Lyding said. “He just mentioned the fact that silicon devices have hydrogen in them. And it just occurred to me, what happens if we replace that hydrogen with deuterium. . . . When he heard me, he literally jumped out of his chair, and said we have to try that.”

By increasing chip lifespans by factors ranging from 10 to 50 times, deuterium has found its way into semiconductor chip manufacture. In 2010 Samsung licensed the University's deuterium patent portfolio for use in its most advanced silicon chip technologies.

Lyding wasn’t always the Midwest’s expert in STM technology. When he was brought on in 1984 to study charge-density waves with John Bardeen, he hadn’t even heard of an STM. But then, at one of the first conferences he attended as a faculty member, he attended a talk held by Gerd Binnig, co-inventor of the STM. After that, Lyding had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do.

“I saw the STM, and I said, ‘Man, that’s cool, I’ve got to build one of these,’” he said.

Making that change was a risky move to make so early in his career, so he moved quickly. Spending countless hours in the ECE student machine shop, Lyding pieced together one of the first STMs in the United States, and got it operational in a single year.

“That’s how it all got started: I didn’t even know what an STM was when I came here as a faculty member, and then I just became enthralled by it and decided I had to have one,” he said. “I was in there just about every night, machining stuff, modifying stuff, over and over and over again.”

Looking ahead, Lyding and his group have the task of figuring out how to precisely control graphene, a substance that researchers like Lyding suspect could be the successor to silicon.

“We’ve been able to see how atomistic level features in graphene affect its performance, and now that we’ve seen it, we want to control it,” he said.

As for what discoveries are made along the way, this remains to be seen.

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