Silicon emission technologies based on nanocrystals

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Electronic and Electrical Engineering


The global semiconductor market has a value of around $1trillion, over 90% of which is silicon based. In many senses silicon has driven the growth in the world economy for the last 40 years and has had an unparalleled cultural impact. Given the current level of commitment to silicon fabrication and its integration with other systems in terms of intellectual investment and foundry cost this is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. Silicon is used in almost all electronic circuitry. However, there is one area of electronics that, at the moment, silicon cannnot be used to fill; that is in the emission of light. Silicon cannot normally emit light, but nearly all telecommunications and internet data transfer is currently done using light transmitted down fibre optics. So in everyones home signals are encoded by silicon and transmitted down wires to a station where other (expensive) components combine these signals and send light down fibres. If cheap silicon light emitters were available, the fibre optics could be brought into everyones homes and the data rate into and out of our homes would increase enormously. Also the connection between chips on circuit boards and even within chips could be performed using light instead of electricity. The applicants intend to form a consortium in the UK and to collaborate with international research groups to make silicon emit light using tiny clumps of silicon, called nanocrystals;. These nanocrystals can emit light in the visible and can be made to emit in the infrared by adding erbium atoms to them. A number of techniques available in Manchester, London and Guildford will be applied to such silicon chips to understand the light emission and to try to make silicon chips that emit light when electricity is passed through them. This will create a versatile silicon optical platform with applications in telecommunications, solar energy and secure communications. This technology would be commercialised by the applicants using a high tech start-up commpany.
Description We have developed new models for the origin of light emission from silicon nanocrystals and nanoclusters. These are important because we would like to be able to produce silicon-based light sources for integration with microelectronics. This has so far been impossible because silicon is an inefficient light emitter. The results from this project show ways in which this could be achieved.
Exploitation Route Other researchers - helping them to understand the process of light emission from silicon

Industry - to help develop Si-based LEDs and other light sources
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy

Description Inaugural lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave my professorial inaugural lecture in Nov 2016, which was attended by a mixed audience, from school pupils to members of the public, along with university students and colleagues. Attendance was around 110.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016