Kristin Gadd, 844-5741


AUBURN -- There's a fine line between theory and experiment, but two Auburn University researchers are blurring this line in efforts to develop a reusable, more economical semiconductor wafer.

Single crystal wafers -- the substance upon which microelectronics circuits are built -- have historically been made on inexpensive silicon, but newer devices require the use of much more expensive wafer materials.

Professor Peter Barnes and Assistant Professor Frederick Streitz of the Department of Physics are exploring new ways to recycle these more expensive wafers. If their experiments are proven feasible, they could result in an economic boon for the electronics industry.

These alternate semiconducting materials can cost up to 20 times more than silicon, the researchers said.

"If an economically feasible way to reuse these newer semiconductor wafers is found, the expense of the circuits and devices built on them would ultimately be less," Barnes said.

Barnes has successfully removed the built-up electronics from these more expensive wafers using a technique called cleaving. This technique is similar to the way a gem cutter exposes the crystal facets of a diamond.

However, the detached electronic material contains defects that show up in the form of holes and dips, he said.

There are existing theories that attempt to explain why these defects occur, but they are oversimplified according to Streitz. As a theorist, Streitz is attempting to improve these models to eliminate the defects.

Barnes, an experimentalist, has the ability to perform the necessary experiments to test the theory, Streitz said.

"It is much easier to calculate a theory than to conduct a laboratory experiment," Barnes added. "Experiments can take from one week to a month to complete, and are expensive to perform. However, once we have a sound theory, the expected outcome can be calculated on a computer, which is faster and much cheaper."

The work of Barnes and Streitz is being done through the Faculty Mentoring Program, which is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research. They received a $4,000 grant for their research.

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CONTACT: Barnes, 844-4316 (; Streitz, 844-2943 (