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19 October 2009


TriQuint wins $16.2m DARPA ‘NEXT’ contract for GaN IC research

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded RF device maker and foundry services provider TriQuint Semiconductor Inc of Hillsboro, OR, USA a $16.2m multi-year gallium nitride (GaN) R&D contract to create complex, high-dynamic-range circuits for future defense and aerospace applications.

TriQuint received its DARPA contract to advance GaN research and to develop new generations of compound semiconductor circuits through the Nitride Electrical NeXt-Generation Technology (NEXT) program. TriQuint’s principal investigator, senior fellow Dr Paul Saunier, reckons that achieving NEXT program goals could lead to GaN circuits as radically different as existing computers are compared to those of the 1980s.

“GaN is already recognized for its ability to handle more power per square millimeter than other semiconductor technologies like gallium arsenide, and much more so than silicon. Yet even with the advances TriQuint has pioneered, today’s analog GaN technology has frequency and power limits,” he stresses.

“NEXT circuits will be ‘game-changing’ technology that could radically improve performance in defense and aerospace applications like phased array radar and communications," claims Saunier. “NEXT calls for complex digital GaN circuits that also have very high breakdown voltages—something that silicon can’t do, and that is also beyond the scope of today’s other semiconductor processes,” he adds.

NEXT’s initial Phase I will run for two years, pursuing devices that can operate at 300GHz with essential yield levels of a small circuit. The 18-month Phase II program will raise the operating frequency to 400GHz while increasing yield and circuit size. The third and final 12-month Phase III targets 500GHz while also substantially increasing yield and circuit size.

Another key aspect of NEXT will be to develop enhancement-depletion (E/D) mode GaN circuits, similar to the E/D circuits that TriQuint uses for greater functionality and power handling in its GaAs devices, says Dr David Fanning, TriQuint’s program manager for NEXT.

TriQuint’s NEXT team will include IQE plc, which makes GaN epiwafers. TriQuint will also team with University of Notre Dame professors Patrick Fay, Debdeep Jena, Greg Snider and Huili Xing to explore alternative wafer materials and circuit designs. University of Illinois professor Ilesanmi Adesida will assist with work to develop fabrication processes.

TriQuint has researched GaN for both defense and civilian applications since 1999. In addition to defense products, the firm has launched GaN amplifiers for civilian applications and has provided commercial GaN foundry services since 2008. Previously, this June, TriQuint was also selected by DARPA to lead the two-year $16.5m Phase III of the Wide Bandgap Semiconductors for RF Applications (WBGS-RF) R&D program, which is developing high-power, high-efficiency wideband GaN circuits for defense and aerospace applications.

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