5 min

Preface June 2017

Each month, our CEO reflects on his life and work and discusses the topics described in that month’s imec magazine issue.

Growing together

At the end of the year the Hollywood movie ‘The Current War’ will be launched. It’s about the well-known ‘War of Currents’, the battle between direct current and alternating current in 1880. Inventor and businessman Thomas Edison was convinced that the American electricity grid should use direct current (DC), but businessman George Westinghouse and inventor Nikola Tesla believed that alternating current (AC) was the better option. We all know who won this battle.

But now, more than a century later, Edison might be victorious after all. More and more scientists are becoming convinced that we should reinvent our electricity grid, using DC instead of AC. Offshore wind farms, for instance, already use high voltage DC connection systems to transport electricity. But switching to DC could be useful within buildings as well, as many appliances and much of our lighting use direct current. Moreover, many new electricity sources, like solar cells, generate direct current. Quick advances in power electronics have made a potential transition to a DC electricity grid more feasible. We can now make very efficient inverters and converters that are cheaper than the traditional transformers used in the AC network. Read more on this Hollywoodian material in the article on DC nanogrids.

One important player in the field of power electronics is our spinoff EpiGaN, founded by three of our top researchers in 2010. They are commercializing the growth of Gallium Nitride on silicon substrates, which enables highly efficient, affordable power electronics. Of course, imec is already looking further ahead as well. We are currently working on ways to grow GaN on a SOI-substrate. In this magazine, you can discover why we are doing this.

We think it’s important to create spinoffs, such as EpiGaN, in very diverse fields, ranging from mother-baby monitoring (Bloomlife) to smart glasses (EYEco, eyeCO) and infrared cameras (XenICs). In this imec magazine issue you can meet our spinoff Tengu, active in the field of data science and created by imec – IBCN – UGent researchers in 2016.

We do not only stimulate innovation by creating companies, but also by bringing them together. In our core CMOS program, for instance, we bring together all parties involved (from chip manufacturers to material and tool suppliers) to conduct research in a communal state-of-the-art cleanroom. At the latest imec Technology Forum in Antwerp, Inpria shared their experience with this open innovation approach. Inpria develops photoresist lithography material and has designed unique material for EUV-lithography. At imec they could test their new material with the right partners on the right (expensive) tools. Thus, for them, this cooperation was invaluable and allowed them to grow into an established player within the chip industry. In the article on 3D chips, you’ll find another story on successful cooperation. Imec and FormFactor (previously called Cascade Microtech) have jointly developed a new technique that allows testing advanced chips prior to stacking them.

In other words: small or large, every company matters to us, and enables us to continuously push our boundaries to bring about innovation.

Luc Van den hove,
General Director and CEO of imec

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