Near Barcelona there is a tech sanctuary where they are forged objects of extreme purity. Inside, the air is extremely clean. Its workers operate covered with special suits. Temperature, humidity and pressure are kept constant to protect your ‘jewels’: microchips and nanodevices of extreme precision, which will travel into space or enter the neural connections of the brain and inside the cells.
It is the ‘Micro and Nanofabrication White Room’ of the Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona (IMB-CNM), of the CSIC, “exceptional infrastructure”, according to its director, Luis Fonseca. “It stands out in southern Europe in its category due to its size (1,500 square meters), its versatility (silicon technologies, silicon carbide, etc.) and its technological flexibilitybeing the best equipped, with nearly 200 teams”, he adds.
In these facilities, located on the campus of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Cerdanyola del Vallès), electronic devices and systems with the capacity to manage information or maintain physical-digital interaction with their environment are designed and manufactured. The objective is to develop and apply innovative technologies in the field of microelectronics together with other emerging micro and nanotechnologies.
“We range from established technologies in the field of semiconductors and the silicon micromachiningto new ones, such as photonic circuits, quantum devices, silicon nanowires and materials with a single atomic layer (two-dimensional materials)”, lists Fonseca.
“In recent years we have achieved some milestones, such as the manufacture of nanochips for the study of living cells and components adapted to the hostile conditions of missions in space, such as those that are now on their way to Mercury (BepiColombo) and the Sun ( Solar Orbiter)created ad hoc, or those that orbit the Earth orienting the satellites of the One Web constellation”, he details.
Devices to know the brain
The IMB-CNM has the capacity to design and manufacture specific hardware capable of acquiring and processing large volumes of data. “We have developed new radiation detectors for the accelerators of the Atlas experiment, at CERN (with which the institute has collaborated for more than twenty years), which allow a large number of particle detector channels to be obtained”, indicates Fonseca.
The devices in the Clean Room are also used to learn about the brain. “We have developed neural interfaces (within the European project BrainCom) based on graphene transistors that, through the use of multiplexing techniques, are capable of increasing the recording channels without increasing the number of connections”, explains the director. The integrated circuits designed at the IMB-CNM have made it possible to process large volumes of information on brain activity.
Fonseca underlines that these technologies are consolidated and have a long way to go to face current challenges, such as the new designs of European processors with RISC-V architecture that it seeks palliate Europe’s technological dependency (within the Drac project).
Photonics is the great promise of the last decade as an enabling technology, with potential for applications yet to be invented. The science and technology of light studies the generation, manipulation and detection of photons, particles that can be used as carriers of information.
This technology is present in many applications related to information processing, such as fiber optic telecommunications, laser printing, sensors, screens, intelligent lighting or photovoltaic systems.
“Just as microelectronics transformed the technological world of the 20th century, photonics is the technology best positioned to continue its work in the digital world of the 21st century”says Carlos Domínguez, IMB-CNM researcher and head of the SiN Photonics platform.
“Photonic integrated circuits will allow a spectacular advance in the quantum computingthe quantum communications and the quantum sensors“, Explain.
Another key line is the development of electronic devices that work with minimal energy consumptionspecifically through the application of advanced nanofabrication methods.
The IMB-CNM participates in the establishment of a pilot line for the manufacture of quantum devices compatible with the CMOS standard in the Clean Room, which will lead to the creation of the first semiconductor qubit (qubit or quantum bit) in Spain. A qubit is the quantum analog of the classical bit, with the particularity that it represents a combination of two states, leading to an exponential increase in computing power.
“The objective is to have an affordable platform for quantum devices that allows research both in technological solutions to improve the performance of devices, such as new device concepts and their applications”, explains Francesc Pérez-Murano, researcher at the IMB-CNM.
The institute is also working on micro and nanoprocessing capabilities through the production of devices based on advanced materials or superconducting functionalities. Quantum applications include scalable processors and ultrasensitive sensors.
“We seek developments based on the magnetism of nanostructured materials as a safe and energy-efficient alternative to information management based on conventional electronics.”, explains Gemma Rius, researcher at the IMB-CNM.
On the whole, the Clean Room of the IMB offers a cutting-edge infrastructure to promote the development of devices that will allow disruptive technologies to take offsuch as photonics and quantum computing, which will be key in the digital society of the future.
IMB-CNM ‘White Room’ website: https://www.imb-cnm.csic.es/es/sala-blanca-de-micro-y-nanofabricacion