ECE Researchers Strive to Improve Thin Film Technology

Wang PortraitAs technology evolves, electronic devices get smaller, which in turn requires the circuitry inside to get smaller as well. For years researchers in The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University have been working on this smaller circuitry using thin film technology.
Thin film technology describes a technology for coating a thin layer of materials (e.g., metals, ceramics, polymers and etc.) on top of a certain substrate. More recently, thin films are important components of various devices, such as light emitting devices, Silicone-based integrated circuits and thin film solar cells, as well as thin film high temperature superconductor coated conductors, to name a few.
The technology has been around for decades and Dr. Haiyan Wang, a professor in the department, began working on it in 1998. She said the technology has come a long way since then and has kept evolving.
“We have already come up with good control on materials structures,” Wang said. “However as new materials evolve, a new processing tool is often required or new processing parameters have to be developed. So this research is non-stop. New things are coming up all the time!”
Wang says there are several aspects to this development that must be addressed. First, develop new tools and techniques to enable certain material growth that could not be achieved previously. Second, design new materials that cannot be easily processed by conventional bulk processing techniques, for example, nanometer thin layer, or nanograins that can be easily processed by thin film techniques, but not other bulk tools. Third, design new functionalities that bulk materials could not achieve, for example, with precise composition control one can use thin film tools to make materials with multifunctionalities by compositing different materials together in thin film form. Wang’s research group is focusing on the last two directions.
“One area we’re working on is the structural tuning to achieve new functionalities,” she said. “This is more towards new device properties and design. This is a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project and we have worked on this topic for six years and have gotten good control of this topic with more than 30 journal articles published.
Wang Story“We also have been working on thin films for solid oxide fuel cells for seven years with more than 15 journal papers published, superconductors for more than eight years with more than 30 journal articles published, as well as (thin films) for batteries for two years with two journal papers published.”
Wang and her research team collaborate closely with other teams throughout the world, such as the University of Cambridge in England, the University of California, Davis, the University of Houston, the University of Texas, Austin, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas at Dallas.
“This is a multidisciplinary work, Wang explained. “We have very wide collaborations with other researchers as they need our thin film growth capabilities and/or TEM characterization capability.”
And though Wang said she’s very excited about what she and her research team have accomplished and the direction they’re heading, the best part for her is watching her students become successful doing this research.
“For sure I feel so excited when we made new thin film materials with new functionalities, and we published many very good papers in Nature family journals or others,” she said. “But I feel the most exciting part or rewarding part is that all my students find jobs in important research & development positions using their thin film skills.
“I have 11 Ph.D. students graduated with five who joined Intel, two in Samsung, one in LG, one in IBM and two in postdoc positions at national labs or universities. It is so nice to see students with thin film knowledge and skills find their career in this field and continue this exploration!”