Project to evaluate GaN in space

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

A five-year, $7.5 million Defense Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative Award in the US is looking at how wide bandgap gallium nitride semiconductors respond in space.

“Wide bandgap semiconductors, such as gallium nitride, have shown advantages over silicon in radio frequency and power electronics. They are also inherently more resistant to radiation due to stronger atomic bonds,” said Rongming Chu, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Penn State University in the US who will lead the project.

Commercial GaN suppliers, including EPC and Renesas, have already been evaluating the performance of these devices for radiation hardness.

“Preliminary studies have indicated that the radiation resistance appears to be limited by defects in the semiconductors, rather than by the material’s intrinsic properties,” said Chu. “In this project, we seek to understand the radiation effects of these defects so that we may develop a strategy to redesign the wide bandgap semiconductor device for the ultimate radiation hardness.”

Defects include unwanted impurities, displacement of atoms from their original sites and dangling atomic bonds at the interface between dissimilar materials.

“There is a risk of these defects becoming electrically active under a high electric field, with energetic electrons, causing detrimental effects to device performance,” said Chu. “Today’s wide bandgap semiconductor electronic devices are designed such that this risk is minimized under normal operating conditions. However, radiation can force the device out of its normal operating condition by exciting additional energetic electrons interacting with the pre-existing defects. It can also knock atoms out of their original positions, modifying pre-existing defects and generating new defects.”

The interdisciplinary project aims to better understand how radiation causes defect generation and evolution, how these defects affect device operation and how to redesign future wide bandgap devices for the optimum radiation hardness. This includes engineering science and mechanics; nuclear engineering and physics.

At Penn State the team will leverage the tools and experts affiliated with the Radiation Science and Engineering Centre and the Nanofabrication and Materials Characterization User Facilities at the Materials Research Institute.

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