$30m centre eyes new uses for silicon

$30m centre eyes new uses for silicon

SILICON is already widely used in technology such as computers and electronics, but researchers here believe still more can be done with the element.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research set up a new, $30 million Silicon Technologies Centre of Excellence last month to study new ways of using the material in security, environmental protection, wearable technology and even in space.

NTU's Associate Professor Wang Hong explained to The Straits Times that silicon could be combined with other semiconductor materials to make portable sensors that can better detect chemicals used in explosives, as well as gases such as methane leaks from pipelines.

Most current sensors use lasers that operate in the near-infrared light spectrum. The centre's scientists are making sensors that use the mid-infrared spectrum, which allows for far better detection of, say, greenhouse gases.

The Singapore centre is also studying how to create stackable integrated circuits to improve electronic devices' battery life and computer power.

A team at the centre has created a prototype that stacks a semiconductor with a microelectromechanical system without the use of wire bonds or adhesives. They claim that one of its advantages could be doubling a device's battery life.

Some scientists at the centre are also studying silicon-based particles that can deliver cancer-fighting drugs into the human body. "The pores in the particles can be used as reservoirs for drugs, and the particles can be engineered so they only release the drugs after they get into the diseased cells," said NTU Assistant Professor Zhao Yanli.

Another team has created a hybrid material that changes its shape when it becomes hotter. The material could be used in space to help unfold solar panels on space vehicles more efficiently and has met the European Space Agency's space standard.

Centre director Ng Geok Ing said variants of the material, which distributes and dissipates heat very quickly, could also be used in wearable technology like Google Glass and smart watches.

He said: "One of the problems with such wearable technologies is that certain components can get very hot, especially if you want to boost their processing power. Our materials could help solve that problem."

zengkun@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 8, 2015.
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