FAYETTEVILLE -- Researchers from across the country developing electronics prototypes will turn to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville after a $17.9 million federal grant to fabricate silicon carbide technology, said Alan Mantooth, a UA professor leading the effort.
Integrated circuits made with silicon carbide provide greater resiliency at high temperatures compared with circuits made with silicon, Mantooth said. This ruggedness makes silicon carbide components sought after for use in electric vehicles, among other applications, he said.
The National Science Foundation grant establishes UA as the site of a first-of-its-kind facility for the U.S. in that it will be accessible to many researchers, Mantooth said.
"There's not an open facility that does the low-volume prototyping that we need" to help U.S. researchers develop market-ready designs, Mantooth said.
But with the new site, "people can submit designs to this facility, and we will manufacture these designs," Mantooth said. He added that UA's proposal received "no less than 50" letters of support, including from the University of Tennessee, the University of California-Berkeley, Virginia Tech University and the University of Colorado.
The National Science Foundation announced last week funding for the site at UA, a part of an effort to shore up what the agency calls mid-scale research infrastructure.
UA faculty members Greg Salamo and Zhong Chen, as well as Shannon Davis, business and operations manager for UA's Department of Electrical Engineering, are considered co-principal investigators on the project with Mantooth, who said that Lubbock, Texas-based manufacturer X-FAB is also a partner in the effort.
Such a facility at UA opens up possibilities for researchers elsewhere but also, Mantooth said, for the Fayetteville region to potentially become a destination site for a growing industry.
"There are going to be jobs galore that need to be filled. Here's the opportunity to attract some of that industry to the region," Mantooth said.
The ongoing pandemic has affected the semiconductor industry, with supply chain disruptions leading to a shortage of vital components for automobile manufacturers, Mantooth said.
Federal legislators looking to boost spending on infrastructure have included proposed support for the semiconductor industry, Mantooth said.
Such aid would provide a lift to high-volume manufacturers, "but they're going to need engineering talent," Mantooth said, adding that the new fabrication site at UA will provide learning opportunities for students.
Three full-time staff members will work at the site, with grant money used for the hires as well as for a post-doctoral researcher, according the university's announcement Monday of the grant award.
The National Science Foundation grant provides money for staff, equipment and the refurbishing of laboratory areas but not a new building at UA, Mantooth said.
Existing campus facilities will be used initially, though Mantooth said there is a "high probability" that a new building will eventually house the effort.
Mantooth said that over some 15 years UA has developed a strength in power electronics research, with the efforts of many contributing to the campus being selected as a fabrication site.
"We have the credibility to be really seriously considered for such an award," Mantooth said.