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Cardiff scientists in £4m bid to find tomorrow’s technologies

17 February 2017

Diamonds on computer display screen

Cardiff University scientists are joining a £4m project to develop technologies that support tomorrow’s phone networks, space and defence systems.

The five-year programme, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is being led by the University of Bristol.

It will join Cardiff and three other universities (Glasgow, Cambridge and Birmingham) as well as industry partners to develop next-generation technology that paves the way for 5G and 6G mobile phone networks and advanced radar systems.

iPhone showing internal components

The heat flux on the surface of the sun

Researchers will develop gallium nitride (GaN)-on-diamond microwave technology as global demand for high-power microwave devices continues to increase.

The project aims to develop high-electron-mobility transistors (or HEMTS). Energy flows in these can be as high as the heat flux on the surface of the sun. Researchers believe diamond – due to its ultra-high thermal conductivity – is the best material for handling the energy needed to drive 5G and 6G networks.

Professor Paul Tasker, School of Engineering, said “A major performance advance in GaN transistors is targeted by exploiting the excellent electrical properties of GaN and the thermal properties of diamond..."

"Compound semiconductor transistor advances are driving the technology infrastructure behind the Internet of Things.”

Professor Paul Tasker Professor

Professor Oliver Williams, School of Physics and Astronomy, established Cardiff Diamond Foundry, the largest diamond growth group in the UK.

Professor Williams said: "Diamond has unrivalled thermal conductivity with simultaneously high electrical resistivity..."

"By combining the extreme thermal properties of diamond with the excellent electrical properties of GaN one can hope for a new paradigm in power handling electronics."

Professor Oliver Williams

"Cardiff Diamond Foundry specialises in the integration of diamond with other materials for novel applications and thus this project is closely correlated with our main activities."

Early UK industry access to the technology will be achieved by collaboration with the Institute of Compound Semiconductors (ICS), a Cardiff University translation centre being developed on Cardiff Innovation Campus.

ICS works closely with the Compound Semiconductor Centre – a joint for-profit venture between advanced semiconductor wafer manufacturer IQE and Cardiff University

Dr Wyn Meredith, Compound Semiconductor Centre (CSC), said: "The CSC has a mission to support high quality research in the UK which is highly likely to have a dramatic impact on compound semiconductor markets or applications..."

"We were particularly impressed in the scale of ambition in this work plan which aims to drive a step change in RF power improvement compared to current microwave component technology, a critical enabler for strategic applications in defence, medical, communication and space markets."

Dr Wyn Meredith Compound Semiconductor Centre

Experts say the research should help create devices with a more than fivefold increase in radio frequency power compared with today’s commercially available transistors.

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