Ohio State leads new Department of Defense research program for next-generation semiconductor devices

Posted: October 11, 2022

The Ohio State University will lead a multi-institutional, multidisciplinary research team developing next-generation semiconductor devices for wireless communication and radar applications.

The team is planned to be awarded $7.5 million in funding over five years for its role in the newly established Department of Army Ultra-wide Bandgap RF Electronics Center. The Army Research Office (ARO), a directorate of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory (ARL) instituted the center with the goal of increasing the power density of current, state-of-the-art electronic devices that utilize wide bandgap semiconductors.

“The Ultra-wide Bandgap RF Electronics Center will facilitate collaboration between extramural academic researchers and the Army in pursuit of a mutual goal: generating the foundational knowledge needed to enable the next generation of RF electronics with unprecedented power, bandwidth, frequency agility, and size-weight-and-power (SWaP) requirements,” said Dr. Joe Qiu at DEVCOM ARL ARO, the lead program manager for this center.

The project will partner Ohio State researchers led by lead principal investigator Siddharth Rajan, a professor in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, with experts from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sandia National Laboratories, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Arkansas, and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

High frequency transistors are a critical component of the communication systems used in data networks and for military applications such as radar. The highest performance high frequency transistors today are built using wide bandgap semiconductors such as gallium nitride. The key parameter that makes gallium nitride a good material for such high frequency transistors is the electric field strength it can sustain, known as the breakdown electric field.

However, in the pursuit of improved performance at the higher frequencies needed for next-generation communication and radar systems, researchers are now interested in materials called ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors with an even larger breakdown electric field than gallium nitride.

In the proposed work, the Ohio State-led team will investigate transistors built using aluminum gallium nitride and will perform interdisciplinary research that spans materials science, electrical engineering, semiconductor fabrication, and semiconductor physics. The center will provide the Army with a new ability to create advanced RF technologies across its modernization priorities for robust multi-domain operations in highly contested electromagnetic environments.

“We are so excited for this opportunity to work on next-generation high-frequency electronics based on ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors that have the potential to surpass the state-of-art,” Rajan said. “But as in any new technology, there are critical challenges that will need innovation, hard work, and skill across many disciplines. This center-level grant has enabled us to bring together a team of outstanding researchers with the experience and skills to address these challenges.”