5 min

Preface May 2018

Each month our CEO reflects on the events in his (professional) life and discusses some of the articles featured in the magazine. This month, he talks about how you can ‘look at things differently’ to arrive at genuine innovations.

“By looking at chip technology differently, wonderful innovations can be created that make a real difference to our planet and for our lives.”

The theme of our ITF congress this year is ‘New Perspectives’. It’s all about how genuine innovations can be created if you look at something through different eyes. Take lithography, for example. For a chip manufacturer, lithography is the best way of making transistors smaller and hence for producing chips that are faster and better. But show the same technology to a researcher who is making OLED screens and he or she will see it as a way of making smaller pixels. Which is how we create flexible TV screens with higher resolution. 

Or take oxide breakdown, a well-known reliability problem with transistors, because a conductive path is created through the oxide, known as a filament. But if you look at it differently – for example through the eyes of an expert in brain research – you will soon see the resemblance to our own brains. In particular, there are different intermediate levels of that filament and its strength can be controlled. Which is precisely what happens in our brains: the connections between neurons can be weaker or stronger, depending on events, the learning process, etc. All of which gave our researchers the idea of using these RRAM filaments in chips that work like our brains: neuromorphic chips.

Or take electrodes, the basic components of a transistor. Give them to a cell biologist and they’ll see a way of making minuscule currents pass through a cell, opening the cell membrane and enabling the cell to take up genetic material. Based on this insight, our researchers have made a chip with hundreds of tiny electrodes and a special surface chemistry that enables cells to grow on it. Starting from stem cells, you can then grow an organ. Thanks to the electrodes – which can be controlled individually – you can very precisely select which cells take up a particular genetic code. That way, the stem cells become differentiated into blood vessels, heart cells, etc. until you have a complete organ. 

During our ITF congress we will be showing how chip technology continues to evolve to make increasingly better electronics, as well as how it is the foundation for some amazing innovations in a large number of other sectors. Just by looking at things differently. Amazingly, chip technology will help us to drive more safely, live longer and healthier lives, make better use of energy, etc. Innovations that will really make a difference for our planet and our lives.

In the May issue of imec magazine, we will be talking about ‘deep’ chip technology itself, as well as about the way it can be applied in other sectors. ‘Majority gates’ are a totally new way of making computational chips that are much faster, more economical and compact than their CMOS counterparts. In the article about OLED screens, we demonstrate the value of photolithography in this field. We also look at foils with sensors and a ‘predictor’ for solar panels. I wish you much reading enjoyment!

Luc Van den hove,
President and CEO imec


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