The Alliance for Nanosystems VLSI


Transitioning the recent advances from nanoscience into nanotechnology that is producible en masse remains a largely unmet challenge worldwide. Caltech's Kavli Nanoscience Institute (KNI) in Pasadena, CA USA and the CEA/LETI – Minatec in Grenoble, France have together forged the Alliance for Nanosystems VLSI (very-large-scale-integration) to make real the oft-cited potential of nanoscale systems. To date, very few beachheads have been attained in this domain—largely due to the monumental challenge of merging the separate methodologies of nanoscale bio/chemical sensor device fabrication with state-of-the-art, foundry-scale  microelectronics processing.

A Convergence of Technological Cultures
Over the past decade Caltech has been a pioneer in the development of NEMS (nanoelectromechanical systems), enabling the realization of minute devices melding unprecedented electrical and mechanical functionality. This work has recently culminated in some of the world’s smallest and most sensitive technologies for bio/chemical sensing. For more than 3 decades, LETI has operated one of the world’s few state-of-the-art foundries dedicated to microelectronics research at up to the 300mm (12") wafer scale. LETI has been a world leader in advancing successive generations of microelectronics, with a prominent track record of very successful spin-offs now at the forefront of the technology—including EFCIS (which later became ST Microelectronics), SOITEC, Tronics Microsystems; and numerous others.

"A collaboration between LETI/Minatec and Caltech would exponentially accelerate the research in active nanosystems. We believe the convergence of technology and expertise possible within such a collaboration would be immensely powerful, and unprecedented worldwide."
Dr. Michael Roukes (June 2006)
Kavli Nanoscience Institute / Caltech
Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, & Bioengineering

" 'L'Alliance "Nanosystems VLSI' illustre parfaitement le potential d’innovation généré par la rencontre entre Science et Technologie. Je suis enthousiaste de voir Caltech et le LETI/MINATEC partager cette ambition."
Dr. Laurent Malier (Octobre 2007)

Advancing a New Generation of Bio/Chemical Sensors
LETI/Minatec researchers are now collaborating with Caltech/KNI scientists to transform nanotechnology-based prototypes into robust, complex sensing systems. The initial focus is on large-scale integration of bio/chemical sensors. This involves metamorphosing nanoscale methodologies that have driven innovative research into well-validated microelectronic foundry processes at the wafer scale. Engaged in this effort are researchers working in the areas of chemical functionalization, NEMS device physics, sensor array architectures, integrated microfluidics, multiplexed multichannel electronic readout systems, and informatics-based signature detection algorithms. The Caltech / KNI team is led by Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, & Bioengineering, Dr. Michael Roukes—a pioneer in NEMS and founding Director of Caltech's Kavli Nanoscience Institute from 2003-2006. The LETI - Minatec effort in NEMS technology is headed by Philippe Andreucci, an experienced NEMS / microelectronics researcher with significant background in large-scale engineering of electronic and microelectromechanical systems.

imageFigure 1 at left: Caltech's "NEMS nose" employs arrays of SOI-based, gas phase nanosensors that yield performance exceeding the state-of-the-art, yet the devices are a million-fold smaller than previous technologies. This significant miniaturization and enhanced sensitivity enables new classes of highly-multiplexed or ubiquitous chip-based sensor systems for fast detection of gaseous analytes. Applications for this technology range from the petrochemical, food-service, and security industries to biotechnology and clinical medicine.


imageFigure 2 at right: Caltech's plastic NEMS sensor technology has enabled unprecedented observations of cellular processes in real-time. The plastic sensors are embedded within multilevel microfluidic systems (bottom), enabling single-cell control and measurement (right). This first device generation has already provided ~2 orders of magnitude enhancement of both temporal and force resolution over previous technology; substantial further improvements are envisaged in the near term via Alliance technology.

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The Alliance for Nanosystems VLSI