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Air Force Research Laboratory, Cornell to ‘ACCESS’ next-gen semiconductor with new center

ITHACA, N.Y. – The Air Force Research Laboratory and Cornell University this week will announce the opening of a new university-led Center of Excellence focusing on synthesis and fundamental understanding of beta-gallium oxide – a promising new material with the potential to challenge silicon and other materials currently used in high voltage and high power electronics such as electric vehicles and solar cells.

This high performance, wide-bandgap, oxide-based semiconductor has the potential to dramatically advance high-voltage electronics, but the fundamental understanding of this material remains extremely limited.

“The AFRL-Cornell Center for Epitaxial Solutions will be a comprehensive Center of Excellence to grow, characterize and optimize this novel material,” says Cornell lead Principal Investigator, Dr. Mike Thompson. Thompson is an Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, who for the past 28 years has focused on the behavior and processing of semiconductor materials under extreme conditions using pulsed and continuous-wave laser exposure.

Thompson and his team at Cornell were selected as the university partner by AFRL’s Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Materials and Manufacturing directorate, and Sensors directorate. “ACCESS will be a unique collaboration between researchers at Cornell and counterparts at AFRL, enhanced by the exchange of students and researchers between these labs,” says AFOSR Program Officer, Dr. Ali Sayir. Students and researchers from Cornell will have the opportunity to work closely with AFRL researchers at facilities located on both Cornell’s campus and at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

This type of partnership has positive effects for current research and for the future of the field, according to Sayir. “We see the Center of Excellence program as a prime opportunity for academic engagement and as a pipeline for highly skilled researchers” he adds. “The hope is that student exposure to AFRL will enhance workforce development by making students aware and excited about career opportunities.”

ACCESS has been made possible by a three-year, $3 million grant awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory, with additional funds provided by Cornell and an option for a two-year extension. The center will be organized around two key thrust areas. One is understanding and developing growth and processing methodologies to generate high quality beta-gallium oxide, and the other is developing the critical fundamental understanding of the material’s properties and limits.

“Developing this comprehensive understanding will ultimately enable the intentional design and optimization of materials for future device applications,” says Thompson. “Through close collaborations with AFRL, both this fundamental understanding, as well as the technical expertise to manage materials in these systems, will be effectively transferred.”

ACCESS joins six other universities as AFRL partners through the Center of Excellence program. While each has its own very specific research objectives, all strive to enhance collaborations and generate excitement between AFRL and university researchers in fields important to the future success of the U.S. Air Force. For a full list of AFRL basic research Centers of Excellence, please visit AFOSR’s collaboration site or learn about other AFRL research happening at higher education institutions around the world at https://afresearchlab.com/partner-with-us/higher-education/.