NUS and Applied Materials — the world’s top semiconductor and display equipment company, and a leader in materials engineering solutions — have jointly established the Applied Materials-NUS Advanced Materials Corporate Lab, supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF). This $70 million collaboration, Applied Materials’ first university-based research laboratory, will focus on research and development (R&D) with the aim of developing and quickly commercialising innovative materials for manufacturing next-generation semiconductors.
Materials engineering has helped enable major advancements in semiconductor devices over the years, said Dr Prabu Raja, Senior Vice President at Applied Materials. “However, new applications in artificial intelligence require orders of magnitude improvements in chip performance and power efficiency. Materials innovation will have a critically important role in achieving these improvements,” he noted in his speech at the official launch of the laboratory on 25 October.
Guest-of-Honour Minister for Finance and Chairman of NRF Mr Heng Swee Keat called the collaboration innovative and transformative, saying that it melds the complementary strengths of the two partners. “This Applied Materials-NUS partnership brings together NUS’ industry-relevant research, with Applied Materials’ technology and engineering strengths, and together you can innovate and forge new ways in the next generation of semiconductor technologies and advanced materials,” he said.
NUS recognises that the future of the semiconductor electronics industry will continue to require new advanced materials, advanced materials systems and complex materials engineering to bring about product improvements and innovations, shared NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye. The University has thus made sustained, concerted effort and investment in advanced materials research, he elaborated, highlighting as examples the Chemical, Molecular and Materials Analysis Centre in NUS Chemistry, and the centralised semiconductor cleanroom research facility in NUS Engineering.
“This partnership will tap into world-class multidisciplinary capabilities that NUS has built up in advanced materials research to address industry challenges for which solutions currently do not exist,” added Prof Tan.
NUS and Applied Materials have identified new materials R&D and processing techniques with a focus on two key research areas — deposition and etching — to work towards pioneering innovative semiconductor structures and devices. “These technologies will be developed from conceptualisation to demonstration, with a mid-to-long term horizon of three to eight years to market, targeting next-generation semiconductor applications,” explained Prof Tan.
NUS Engineering Professor Aaron Thean and NUS Science Professor Richard Wong will co-lead the laboratory together with Applied Materials. Some 50 researchers, engineers and doctoral students are expected to be employed and trained at the laboratory.
Additionally, as part of the partnership, Applied Materials will be sponsoring $1.5 million in PhD scholarships at the laboratory. “We hope to attract young talent, students that will experience the research and grow their own knowledge so they can become useful researchers in the field in the long-run,” said Prof Thean.
NRF supports the setting up of corporate laboratories in Singapore universities in order to strengthen the link between research, innovation and enterprise. The Applied Materials-NUS Advanced Materials Corporate Lab is the 14th supported by NRF and the fifth located in NUS.