You are here

NSF grant keeps Brillson's microelectronic research going strong

Len BrillsonA grant extension from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is keeping funding in place to benefit micro-scale electronics research at The Ohio State University.

Grant recipient, Dr. Len Brillson, has a dual appointment within the Ohio State departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as Physics. NSF recently approved a rare special two-year $380,000 Creativity Extension to fund his work through 2018. 

According to NSF, the Creativity Extension grant is reserved “to offer the most creative investigators an extended opportunity to attack adventurous ‘high-risk’ opportunities” within their general research areas.

With this announcement, Brillson has now enjoyed continuous NSF funding support for his research for over 20 years. He has been employed with Ohio State since 1996.

Brillson and his students specialize in studying the surfaces and interfaces of semiconductors – the building blocks that drive computers, lasers, televisions and cellphones. Their work is helping to create a bridge toward next-generation electronics devices.

“These interfaces, such as the contacts that metal wires make to semiconductors in a circuit, have properties of their own,” Brillson said. “They can conduct electricity better or worse, depending on how the metal and semiconductor atoms right at the interface move and bond to each other.”

He said this foundation at the atomic-scale makes working electronics devices possible. In order to study these interfaces, his team of students use special tools to perform their work, such as an atomic force microscope, X-rays and even a scanning electron microscope.

“They measure semiconductor contacts inside special chambers where almost all the air molecules that would otherwise get in the way have been pumped out – just like being a hundred miles outside the Earth’s atmosphere, but inside an Ohio State lab,” Brillson said. “What they discovered was that the last few layers of atoms at interfaces can chemically react and can move atoms out of place, setting up barriers that can help or hinder electricity moving from one side to another. How these effects depend on the particular semiconductors and metals can help researchers predict how well different combinations will work in next-generation electronic devices.”

Brillson’s research areas of interest include electronic materials, semiconductor heterojunction and metal contacts, nanoelectronics, optoelectronics, surface science, and defects in crystalline semiconductors, as well as materials characterization and processing.

NSF also continues to support Brillson’s more collaborative efforts, such as his role in the larger Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) and Materials Research Instrumentation grants.

Watch a short video of Brillson discussing his research and his book, “Surfaces and Interfaces of Electronic Materials,” at Learn more about his Electronic Materials and Nanostructures team at