Saturday, July 31, 2010

A couple of items from TSMC's Q2 earnings call

From seeking alpha.
For CMOS image sensors, we use 65-nanometer and backside illumination to achieve the best quantum efficiency.
For MEMS, we use 0.18-micron to compete 3D CMOS MEMS integration.
We have also experienced, accelerated our sourcing by IBMs and growing presence of fabless customers in specialty technologies, such as CMOS image sensors, embedded memories, high voltage, automotive and power.
Through the recent technology license and the investment agreement with Stion Corporation, we are transferring and developing together high conversion efficiency CIGS thin-film technology with a very low intrinsic cost structure, based on which both companies will aggressively build our manufacturing capacity to scale in the near future.
We strongly believe that CIGS technology will provide a long-term competitive solution to this high growth market. Earlier, strategic investment in Motech, which is a major crystalline silicon solar photovoltaic manufacturer has accelerated our learning curve and their solar cell support will enable our early entry in the solar market.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Paper watch: Nature Photonics

The latest issue of Nature Photonics is out and focuses on silicon photonics. Choice articles:
  • Towards fabless silicon photonics.
  • An interview with Intel's Mario Paniccia on integrating silicon photonics.
  • Monolithically integrated solid-state Terhahertz transceivers. Abstract:
    "Recent advances in microfabricated terahertz quantum cascade lasers have achieved coherent power and frequency performance previously possible only with much larger gas- or vacuum-tube sources. A significant advantage offered by terahertz quantum cascade lasers lies in the potential to integrate them with other components on the same chip. Such terahertz photonic integrated circuits would help close the terahertz technology gap between microwave electronics and infrared photonics. Here, we describe the first successful monolithic integration of a terahertz quantum cascade laser and diode mixer to form a simple but generically useful terahertz photonic integrated circuit—a microelectronic terahertz transceiver. We show that this terahertz photonic integrated circuit performs all the basic functions (for example, transmission of a coherent carrier, heterodyne reception of an external signal, frequency locking and tuning) of discrete-component terahertz photonic systems, but at a small fraction of the size and in a robust platform scalable to semiconductor fabrication production."
  • High-performance Ge-on-Si photodetectors. Abstract:
    "The past decade has seen rapid progress in research into high-performance Ge-on-Si photodetectors. Owing to their excellent optoelectronic properties, which include high responsivity from visible to near-infrared wavelengths, high bandwidths and compatibility with silicon complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor circuits, these devices can be monolithically integrated with silicon-based read-out circuits for applications such as high-performance photonic data links and infrared imaging at low cost and low power consumption. This Review summarizes the major developments in Ge-on-Si photodetectors, including epitaxial growth and strain engineering, free-space and waveguide-integrated devices, as well as recent progress in Ge-on-Si avalanche photodetectors."

Frankencamera demo

At Technology Review, a nice video showing the capabilities of the Frankencamera, and its accompanying article.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More X-ray sources for lower dose in CT

A nice article at IEEE Spectrum about the developments in GE for more efficient CT scanners (dose-wise): Many X-rays Are Better Than One.

The article refers to this talk at the AAPM meeting, which includes some references to SPIE papers in the pdf abstract to the talk.

Wireless power standard announced

From EDN's Power Source blog, an announcement of a standard for wireless power. How they claim to compensate for the low efficiency of this type of power delivery still raises some questions, but at least they try to address the issue.

Let's also hope that they update their blog more often. But their website offers a lot of technical information, and it's well designed.

Electrons and Holes @ Twitter

You can now follow this blog at Twitter for shorter/(hopefully more often) updates and links. BTW, you don't need a twitter account, you can subscribe to the rss feed.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Paper watch: EDA and social networks?

Another conference with its proceedings online at IEEE Xplore is DAC 2010 (free table of contents). It might take a while but they usually put the proceedings online for free at their website.

I found this paper from the conference a bit odd: Electronic Design Automation for Social Networks
Online social networks are a growing internet phenomenon: they connect millions of individuals through sharing of common interests, political and religious views, careers, etc. Social networking websites are observing an ever-increasing number of regular users, who rely on this virtual medium to connect with friends and share in the community. As a result, they have become the repository of a vast amount of demographic information, which could deliver valuable insights to businesses and individuals. However, as of today, this data is for the most part still untapped, partly because of the complexity entailed by analyzing some of these vast social connectivity graphs. Another area that deals with large data sets is Electronic Design Automation (EDA), the result of increasingly complex computer systems. The powerful tools used to deal with these data sets open many possibilities for social networks. In this work we propose to study interesting aspects of social networks by deploying some of the solutions commonly used in EDA.

CSI's IEEE conference

Just found in today's IEEXplore update the proceedings for the 2009 International Conference on Crime Detection and Prevention. The programme can be freely accessed here.

Phil Garrou is back online

After the closing down of Semiconductor International I really missed Dr Garrou's insights in the 3D packaging world. Well, he's back online at ElectroIQ: Insights from the leading edge. Add it to your bookmarks!

He also put all his old blog posts from his time at Semiconductor International at this place.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Paper watch

From the latest IEEXplore update, some interesting papers I found.

First, at the IEEE Electron Devices Letters, NXP engineers working on noise modeling report on excess noise for small channel devices:
Accurate modeling of thermal noise in MOSFETs is crucial for RF application of deep-submicrometer CMOS technologies. Here, we present RF noise measurements on four commercial advanced CMOS technologies down to the 45-nm node. Based on this extensive set of measurements, we prove the existence of excess noise (i.e., above the pure Nyquist level), but at the same time, we show that it is significant only for sub-100-nm MOSFETs. The amount of excess noise depends mainly on the channel length, and its occurrence is remarkably universal across technologies. We also present an electric-field-dependent extension of Nyquist's law that represents a nonequilibrium-transport correction to diffusive transport. We show that this microscopic model quantitatively explains the main features of the experimentally observed excess noise for all technologies. This includes its bias dependence, its geometrical scaling behavior, and the observed difference between n-channel and p-channel devices.

Next, three interesting papers at the Journal of Solid State Circuits, which changes editor-in-chief from Bram Nauta to Un-Ku Moon.

The first one is about "continuous-time" pipelined ADCs, where the continuous time refers to the first stage not being switched-capacitor. Interesting concept, although the FOM is not that impressive. And it still bothers me that one can quote 11 bit resolution with 56 dB SNDR. Additionally, they write in a figure that the ENOB is "9.09 dB".

More interesting is the one by Razavi on Cognitive Radio Design Challenges and Techniques:
Cognitive radios are expected to communicate across two or three frequency decades by continually sensing the spectrum and identifying available channels. This paper describes the issues related to the design of wideband signal paths and the decades-wide synthesis of carrier frequencies. A new CMOS low-noise amplifier topology for the range of 50 MHz to 10 GHz is introduced that achieves a noise figure of 2.9 to 5.7 dB with a power dissipation of 22 mW. Several multi-decade carrier generation techniques are proposed and a CMOS prototype is presented that exhibits a phase noise of -94 to -120 dBc/Hz at 1-MHz offset while consuming 31 mW.

And also the paper on "Progress and Challenges Towards Terahertz CMOS Integrated Circuits" is quite impressive:
Key components of systems operating at high millimeter wave and sub-millimeter wave/terahertz frequencies, a 140-GHz fundamental mode voltage controlled oscillator (VCO) in 90-nm CMOS, a 410-GHz push-push VCO with an on-chip patch antenna in 45-nm CMOS, and a 125-GHz Schottky diode frequency doubler, a 50-GHz phase-locked loop with a frequency doubled output at 100 GHz, a 180-GHz Schottky diode detector and a 700-GHz plasma wave detector in 130-nm CMOS are demonstrated. Based on these, and the performance trends of nMOS transistors and Schottky diodes fabricated in CMOS, paths to terahertz CMOS circuits and systems including key challenges that must be addressed are suggested. The terahertz CMOS is a new opportunity for the silicon integrated circuits community.

e2V delivers the largest focal plane array ever to be flown into space

Space Daily (via OISBlog) reports on the delivery of 150 CCDs by e2V for the Gaia mission. Gaia's website includes some more info on the focal plane.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Engineers and social media

There was an interesting discussion on engineers and social media at the latest episode of Synopsis' Conversation Central podcast.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tech-on briefly discusses phase detection and contrast autofocus, as Fujifilm announce their newest compact.

Variable shape pixels

At the NIST's Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (via Science News and DPReview), a paper on "Precision and Accuracy in Scientific Imaging".

So... no 3D FPGAs?

At EETimes: "FPGA startup Tier Logic folds".

Thursday, July 22, 2010

More pixim videos at YouTube

Related to the previous post, Pixim has a youtube channel.

Video interview of Pixim's CEO

Via the System-Level Design blog, an interview with Pixim's CEO. With a very annoying use of stereo, btw.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nano Image

Related to the previous post, Carl Zeiss Nano Image Contest. You can vote for your favorite image.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The art of failure analysis

Some pictures at the 2010 IPFA symposium web, showing what happens to semiconductor devices when something goes wrong.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Paper watch: A review of wireless multimedia sensor networks

Again from Sensors Journal: "Wireless Multimedia Sensor Networks: Current Trends and Future Directions". A large part of the article is devoted to "camera motes". The abstract reads:
Wireless Multimedia Sensor Networks (WMSNs) have emerged and shifted the focus from the typical scalar wireless sensor networks to networks with multimedia devices that are capable to retrieve video, audio, images, as well as scalar sensor data. WMSNs are able to deliver multimedia content due to the availability of inexpensive CMOS cameras and microphones coupled with the significant progress in distributed signal processing and multimedia source coding techniques. In this paper, we outline the design challenges of WMSNs, give a comprehensive discussion of the proposed architectures, algorithms and protocols for the different layers of the communication protocol stack for WMSNs, and evaluate the existing WMSN hardware and testbeds. The paper will give the reader a clear view of the state of the art at all aspects of this research area, and shed the light on its main current challenges and future trends. We also hope it will foster discussions and new research ideas among its researchers.

Energy harvesting from muscles

Nanowerk reports on work done at GeorgiaTech to harvest energy from heartbeat and breathing. Includes this video:

Paper watch: A review of microfluidic systems for biosensing

From the open access Sensors Journal: "Microfluidic systems for biosensing". The abstract reads:
In the past two decades, Micro Fluidic Systems (MFS) have emerged as a powerful tool for biosensing, particularly in enriching and purifying molecules and cells in biological samples. Compared with conventional sensing techniques, distinctive advantages of using MFS for biomedicine include ultra-high sensitivity, higher throughput, in-situ monitoring and lower cost. This review aims to summarize the recent advancements in two major types of micro fluidic systems, continuous and discrete MFS, as well as their biomedical applications. The state-of-the-art of active and passive mechanisms of fluid manipulation for mixing, separation, purification and concentration will also be elaborated. Future trends of using MFS in detection at molecular or cellular level, especially in stem cell therapy, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, are also prospected.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An implantable miniature telescope

This is pretty cool: "FDA Approves VisionCare's Implantable Miniature Telescope".

Paper watch: SPADs for fluorescence

An open access paper at the Virtual Journal for Biomedical Optics: "Real-time fluorescence lifetime imaging system with a 32 × 32 0.13μm CMOS low dark-count single-photon avalanche diode array".
A compact real-time fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) system based on an array of low dark count 0.13μm CMOS single-photon avalanche diodes (SPADs) is demonstrated. Fast background-insensitive fluorescence lifetime determination is achieved by use of a recently proposed algorithm called ‘Integration for Extraction Method’ (IEM) [J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 25, 1190 (2008)]. Here, IEM is modified for a wider resolvability range and implemented on the FPGA of the new SPAD array imager. We experimentally demonstrate that the dynamic range and accuracy of calculated lifetimes of this new camera is suitable for widefield FLIM applications by imaging a variety of test samples, including various standard fluorophores covering a lifetime range from 1.6ns to 16ns, microfluidic mixing of fluorophore solutions, and living fungal spores of Neurospora Crassa. The calculated lifetimes are in a good agreement with literature values. Real-time fluorescence lifetime imaging is also achieved, by performing parallel 32 × 16 lifetime calculations, realizing a compact and low-cost FLIM camera and promising for bigger detector arrays.

Paper watch: review of state-of-the-art on graphene transistors

At Nature Nanotechnology there's a nice article (after paywall, unfortunately) reviewing the state of the art in graphene transistors. From the abstract:
Graphene has changed from being the exclusive domain of condensed-matter physicists to being explored by those in the electron-device community. In particular, graphene-based transistors have developed rapidly and are now considered an option for post-silicon electronics. However, many details about the potential performance of graphene transistors in real applications remain unclear. Here I review the properties of graphene that are relevant to electron devices, discuss the trade-offs among these properties and examine their effects on the performance of graphene transistors in both logic and radiofrequency applications. I conclude that the excellent mobility of graphene may not, as is often assumed, be its most compelling feature from a device perspective. Rather, it may be the possibility of making devices with channels that are extremely thin that will allow graphene field-effect transistors to be scaled to shorter channel lengths and higher speeds without encountering the adverse short-channel effects that restrict the performance of existing devices. Outstanding challenges for graphene transistors include opening a sizeable and well-defined bandgap in graphene, making large-area graphene transistors that operate in the current-saturation regime and fabricating graphene nanoribbons with well-defined widths and clean edges.

Introduction to DSP for intelligent sensor applications

At there's a nice introduction to DSP for intelligent sensor applications: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Non-contact biosensors for EEG and ECG

At MIT's Technology Review, an article about research at UCSD on capacitive sensors for EEG and ECG.
Chi's sensor is barely larger than a quarter, and when multiple sensors are embedded in material and wired together, they create a portable monitor that patients can wear over clothing as they go about their daily routine. This could mean increased monitoring time and better compliance from patients.
Update 3: Their latest paper actually has quite nice results. I will take my reservations back :-).

Update 2: My wrong. They do have recent papers about the work which show good performance, but no mention on how they deal with motion performance, plus noise numbers seem a bit high.

Update: The group has a paper from 2007 on what looks like a very similar system. I could not find any scientific publication on the new work, so I'll join some colleagues on my skepticism for this development.

Monday, July 5, 2010

It's official: there's nothing graphene can't do

The latest proof: "Antibacterial paper made from graphene".

Free PCB design software

RS offers DesignSpark, a fully free PCB design software. The only thing you need to do in order to use it is join their online community.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Paper watch: CMOS-compatible optical integrator

At Nature Communications, but open access: "On-chip CMOS-compatible all-optical integrator". The abstract reads:
All-optical circuits for computing and information processing could overcome the speed limitations intrinsic to electronics. However, in photonics, very few fundamental 'building blocks' equivalent to those used in multi-functional electronic circuits exist. In this study, we report the first all-optical temporal integrator in a monolithic, integrated platform. Our device—a lightwave 'capacitor-like' element based on a passive micro-ring resonator—performs the time integral of the complex field of an arbitrary optical waveform with a time resolution of a few picoseconds, corresponding to a processing speed of ∼200 GHz, and a 'hold' time approaching a nanosecond. This device, compatible with electronic technology (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor), will be one of the building blocks of next-generation ultrafast data-processing technology, enabling optical memories and real-time differential equation computing units.

More research towards reliable graphene transistors

Seen first at nanowerk here, the paper at nature communications (after paywall) is here: "Gate-controlled electron transport in coronenes as a bottom-up approach towards graphene transistors". The abstract reads:
Graphene is considered to be a large aromatic molecule, the limiting case of the family of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This fascinating two-dimensional material has many potential applications, including field effect transistors (FETs). However, the graphene sheets in these devices have irregular shapes and variable sizes, and contain various impurities and defects, which are undesirable for applications. Moreover, the bandgap of graphene is zero and, consequently, the on/off ratios of graphene FETs are small, making it difficult to build logic circuits. To overcome these difficulties, we report here a bottom-up attempt to fabricate nanoscale graphene FETs. We synthesize structurally well-defined coronene molecules (consisting of 13 benzene rings) terminated with linker groups, bridge each molecule to source and drain electrodes through the linkers, measure conductance and demonstrate the FET behaviour of the molecule.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Paper watch: Semiconducting polymer photodetectors

New paper at the open access Sensors Journal: "Semiconducting Polymer Photodetectors with Electron and Hole Blocking Layers: High Detectivity in the Near-Infrared". The abstract reads:
Sensing from the ultraviolet-visible to the infrared is critical for a variety of industrial and scientific applications. Photodetectors with broad spectral response, from 300 nm to 1,100 nm, were fabricated using a narrow-band gap semiconducting polymer blended with a fullerene derivative. By using both an electron-blocking layer and a hole-blocking layer, the polymer photodetectors, operating at room temperature, exhibited calculated detectivities greater than 1013 cm Hz1/2/W over entire spectral range with linear dynamic range approximately 130 dB. The performance is comparable to or even better than Si photodetectors.

Imaging satellites helping with the Gulf oil spill efforts

At SPIE, an overview of the instruments and research groups helping to combat the Gulf oil spill.

MSc thesis position at imec

If someone's interested, here's info on a new MSc thesis position at imec on CMOS circuits for bio-photonics:
"Low Noise/Low Power Electronics for an Optical Glucose Sensor"

One of the most important requirements of implantable sensors is operation with very low power consumption. When such a sensor requires high performance for its correct operation, the power consumption becomes the most critical parameter of the design because of (1) battery size and frequency of replacement and (2) risk of local tissue heating (resulting in tissue irritation and inflammation).

This project aims at the design of an ultra low power CMOS readout circuit for an optical glucose sensor, as well as the driver electronics for the light source. The work involves:
* Analysis of the complete system: light source + optical detector for optimum power operation.
* Design of the sensor readout circuit.
* Design of the driver electronics for the light source.

The candidate must have followed courses on analog CMOS circuit design. Familiarity with the operation of photonic devices and with the Cadence design environment will be highly valued.

This work is defined as thesis work for a MSc in Electronic Engineering

The duration of the internship will be at least 6 months.

David San Segundo Bello (

Hazardous substances

There are two interesting posts at EDN's critical links blog on recent ROHS developments:
And while we are in the subject, other substances used in electronic components which are hazardous but in a different way.