Near Barcelona there is a technology sanctuary where they are forged objects of extreme purity. Inside, the air is extremely clean. Its workers operate covered in special suits. Temperature, humidity and pressure are kept constant to protect your “jewels”: ultra-precise microchips and nanodevices, which will travel through space or enter neural connections in the brain and inside cells.
It is the ‘White Room of Micro and Nanofabrication’ of the Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona (IMB-CNM), of the CSIC, “exceptional infrastructure”, according to its director, Luis Fonseca. “It stands out in Southern Europe in its category by its size (1,500 square meters), its versatility (silicon technologies, silicon carbide, etc.) and its technological flexibilitybeing the best equipped, with around 200 teams & rdquor ;, he adds.
In these facilities, located on the campus of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Cerdanyola del Vallès), electronic devices and systems capable of managing information or maintaining physical-digital interaction with their environment are designed and manufactured. The objective is to develop and apply innovative technologies in the field of microelectronics as well as other emerging micro and nanotechnologies.
“We go from established technologies in the field of semiconductors and the silicon micromachiningeven new ones, such as photonic circuits, quantum devices, silicon nanowires and single atomic layer materials (two-dimensional materials) & rdquor ;, Fonseca lists.
“In recent years, we have achieved some important milestones, such as the manufacture of nanochips for the study of living cells and components adapted to the hostile conditions of missions in space, such as those which are now on their way to Mercury (BepiColombo) and the sun. (solar orbiter)created ad hoc, or those that orbit the Earth orienting the satellites of the constellation One Web & rdquor ;, he details.
Devices to know the brain
The IMB-CNM has the ability to design and manufacture specific hardware capable of acquiring and processing large volumes of data. “We have developed new radiation detectors for the accelerators of the Atlas experiment at CERN (with which the institute has been collaborating for more than twenty years), which make it possible to obtain a large number of particle detector channels”, indicates Fonseca.
Cleanroom devices are also used to learn more about the brain. “We have developed neural interfaces (within the European BrainCom project) based on graphene transistors which, thanks to the use of multiplexing techniques, are able to increase the recording channels without increasing the number of connections” , explains the director. The integrated circuits designed at the IMB-CNM have made it possible to process large volumes of information on brain activity.
Fonseca points out that these technologies are consolidated and have a long way to go to face current challenges, such as the new designs of European processors with RISC-V architecture that it seeks. overcome Europe’s technological dependence (as part of the Drac project).
Photonics is the great promise of the last decade as an enabling technology, with potential applications yet to be invented. Light science and technology studies the generation, manipulation and detection of photons, particles that can be used as carriers of information.
This technology is present in many applications related to information processing, such as fiber optic telecommunications, laser printing, sensors, screens, smart lighting or photovoltaic systems.
“Just as microelectronics transformed the technological world of the 20th century, photonics is the technology best placed to continue its work in the digital world of the 21st century”says Carlos Domínguez, IMB-CNM researcher and head of the SiN Photonics platform.
“Photonic integrated circuits will allow a spectacular advance in the quantum computingfinally quantum communications and the quantum sensors“, he explains.
Another key axis is the development of electronic devices that operate with minimal power consumptionin particular thanks to the application of advanced methods of nanofabrication.
The IMB-CNM participates in the establishment of a pilot line for the manufacture of quantum devices compatible with the CMOS standard in the clean room, which will lead to the creation of the first semiconductor qubit (qubit or quantum bit) in Spain. A qubit is the quantum analogue of the classical bit, with the particularity that it represents a combination of two states, leading to an exponential increase in computing power.
“The goal is to have an affordable platform for quantum devices that enables research in both technological solutions to improve device performance, such as new device concepts and their applications,” says Francesc Pérez-Murano, researcher at IMB-CNM.
The institute is also working on micro and nanoprocessing capabilities through the production of devices based on advanced materials or superconducting functionalities. Quantum applications include scalable processors and ultra-sensitive sensors.
“We are looking for developments based on the magnetism of nanostructured materials as a safe and energy-efficient alternative to information management based on conventional electronics.“, explains Gemma Rius, researcher at IMB-CNM.
Generally, the IMB White Room provides state-of-the-art infrastructure to foster the development of devices that will allow disruptive technologies to take offsuch as photonics and quantum computing, which will be essential in tomorrow’s digital society.
Site of the ‘Sala Blanca’ of the IMB-CNM: https://www.imb-cnm.csic.es/es/sala-blanca-de-micro-y-nanofabricacion