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Cheng wins MBE Innovator Award

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By Lauren Eichmann, ECE Illinois
November 7, 2007

  • Prof. Norman K.Y. Cheng received the MBE Innovator Award which recognizes those individuals whose work has significantly advanced the field of molecular beam epitaxy.
  • Cheng accepted the award at this year’s North American MBE conference Sept. 25 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The award presented to Cheng included a $3,000 honorarium and engraved plaque.
  • Cheng first began working with MBE inventor and ECE alumnus Al Cho, who nominated him for the MBE Innovator Award, in 1979 at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Cheng was instrumental in developing a key component of MBE systems that is now a standard feature in every production MBE system.

ECE Professor K.Y. Norman Cheng (center) recently received the MBE Innovator Award. Jeff Hohn (left) of Veeco Instruments and Professor Charles Tu (right) from the University of California, San Diego, chairman of the NAMBE Advisory Board, presented the award.
ECE Professor K.Y. Norman Cheng (center) recently received the MBE Innovator Award. Jeff Hohn (left) of Veeco Instruments and Professor Charles Tu (right) from the University of California, San Diego, chairman of the NAMBE Advisory Board, presented the award.

ECE Keh-Yung Cheng has received the MBE Innovator Award, a recognition that acknowledges individuals whose innovative work has significantly advanced the field of molecular beam epitaxy (MBE).

Cheng accepted the award at this year’s North American MBE (NAMBE) conference Sept. 25 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The award presented to Cheng included a $3,000 honorarium and engraved plaque. A citation given at the presentation, attended by more than 200 people, said Cheng made "outstanding contributions to the development InGaAs-based heterostructures for ultra-high-speed devices and pioneering work in III-V dilute nitride semiconductor alloys in addition to his invention of rotating substrate holder used in MBE systems."

The award is co-sponsored by NAMBE and Veeco Instruments, Inc., a leader in semiconductor manufacturing products. A NAMBE advisory committee selected the winner from the submitted nominations. Nominees for the award could come from any university, government, or commercial facility in the world that uses MBE technology. According to the judging criteria, the winner must have outstanding credentials in one or more of the following areas: materials research, device development, device commercialization, or equipment development.

Cheng said he appreciated that the committee selected him for the award. "I’ll keep the beautiful plaque forever, but the $3,000 associated with that goes to my wife," he said with a laugh.

ECE Professor K.Y. Norman Cheng (third from left) attended the North American MBE conference with three of his current and former students. They are, from left, Keith Liao , Barry Wu of Agilent, and Greg Pickrell of Applied Optoelectronics.
ECE Professor K.Y. Norman Cheng (third from left) attended the North American MBE conference with three of his current and former students. They are, from left, Keith Liao , Barry Wu of Agilent, and Greg Pickrell of Applied Optoelectronics.

Cheng first began working with MBE inventor and ECE alumnus Al Cho, who nominated him for the MBE Innovator Award, in 1979 at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Cheng was instrumental in developing a key component of MBE systems that is now a standard feature in every production MBE system. "The first thing we did was incorporate a rotating sample holder so the substrate can rotate during the process in order to improve the uniformity of the semiconductor surface," said Cheng. "I’ve learned a lot of things from Al Cho - not only restricted to the research, but in ways of dealing with research topics. I think students are also an important part, and I appreciate their help. They come up with good ideas and also do a lot of the hard work. You usually spend long hours in the lab since the technique is a slow process. It takes almost a whole day to prepare a few samples. Sometimes you miss dinner, sometimes you have to come in during the weekend."

Cheng was the first person to study the InGaAs semiconductor material needed to provide the platform for very high-speed devices. He also demonstrated the first InGaAs-based high electron mobility transistor idea and the use of nitrogen as a way to rapidly reduce the energy band gap in III-V compound semi-conductors. This work, completed at Illinois, allows researchers the ability to achieve longer wavelengths beyond 1.3 µm in GaAs-based devices. Cheng has three PhD students and one undergraduate working in his lab.

Currently, Cheng is concentrating on various projects including directing a DARPA-funded Hyper-Uniform Nanophotonic Technology Center (HUNT) where researchers are developing transistor lasers and very uniform nanostructure technology at an annual funding level of $1.6 million. "Hopefully we can combine these two technologies to get a very high-performance, very high-speed transistor laser for ultra-fast optoelectronic system applications," Cheng said. Also working at the HUNT center are ECE professors Nick Holonyak, Milton Feng, K. C. Hsieh, and J. P. Leburton, as well as three individuals from Harvard University, Columbia University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

In collaboration with Professor Milton Feng, Cheng is also making a new version of the heterojunction bipolar transistor (HBT), a device that can handle signals of very high frequencies over five hundred GHz with a high power handling capability. This type-II HBT will have a different structure and design than the conventional type-I HBT, and will provide more power. "We’re reaching the world record, almost 700 GHz,” said Cheng. "We’ll deliver the results at this year’s International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM) in December in Washington D.C. It is the most prestigious conference for new devices."

Cheng received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Chung-Cheng Institute of Technology in Taiwan in 1969 and a master’s and PhD from Stanford University in 1972 and 1975, respectively. He has been an ECE Illinois faculty member since 1987.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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