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Embedded Nanomagnets May Help Advance Portable RF Electronics and Communication Systems

Research from University of California, Berkeley scientists sponsored by Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), the world’s leading university-research consortium for semiconductors and related technologies, promises to revolutionize portable radio frequency (RF) electronics and communication systems via advancements in on-chip inductors by leveraging embedded nanomagnets.

The UC Berkeley research focuses on using insulated nano-composite magnetic materials as the filling material to shrink the size and improve the performance of high frequency on-chip inductors, thereby enabling a new wave of miniaturized electronics and wireless communications devices.

“The semiconductor industry has used Moore’s Law as the roadmap to guide long-term research and development, and modern consumer electronics have created another important direction known as ‘More than Moore’ to enable non-digital functions on a chip,” said Liwei Lin, professor of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. “For example, while size and performance of transistors have been constantly and continuously advancing in the past 40 years, on-chip inductors have seen little advancement in size and performance.”

As one of the most basic passive elements in circuitry, inductors are natural components for various applications in the “More than Moore” domain, such as in analog circuits and signal processing for various communication systems. However, it has been difficult to miniaturize on-chip inductors while maintaining adequate inductance and performance.

Typically, large areas (over hundreds of micrometers to millimeters in diameter) are required to construct on-chip inductors with adequate inductance for circuit applications. This large area requirement contributes losses due to parasitic effects between the spiral coil and the semiconductor substrate.

Initial results from this new research demonstrate a significant enhancement in inductance of up to 80 percent, which corresponds to at least a 50 percent shrink of the on-chip inductor size. The new inductor fabrication technology offers the additional advantage of extending the operational frequency range, which is currently limited by eddy current losses.

“The UC Berkeley team’s results offer great potential to deliver an improved solution for compact, high-performance RF on-chip inductors featuring low-cost material fabrication and compatibility with current IC manufacturing,” said Bob Havemann, Director of Nanomanufacturing Sciences at SRC.


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