Li receives DARPA Young Faculty Award

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By Susan Kantor, ECE ILLINOIS
September 1, 2009

  • ECE Assistant Professor [profile:xiuling] is a recipient of a Young Faculty Award from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
  • Li hopes to develop novel transistor technologies that will help enable high-performance circuits for future defense needs.

Xiuling  Li
Xiuling Li

ECE Assistant Professor Xiuling Li is a recipient of a Young Faculty Award from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Li will receive up to $300,000 for two years of research on her proposal, “III-V Nanowire Fin FET on Silicon: A Bottom-up CMOS Compatible Approach.” This is another prestigious award she has won, having received an NSF CAREER award in 2008.

“[DARPA is] one of the major government funding agencies,” Li said. “A lot of the research I do fits well with its program, but this is an agency that’s pretty hard to get in the door. Special grants for young faculty are a really good opportunity, so I took advantage of it and applied.”

DARPA’s Young Faculty Award is given to non-tenured faculty working in the areas of Physical Sciences, Engineering and Mathematics of interest to its Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) and Defense Sciences Office (DSO). With their innovative and exploratory ideas, recipients are considered to be the next generation of great researchers, according to the DARPA Web site.

Li’s project addresses one of the important areas of research relevant to DARPA’s mission: the development of novel transistor technologies that will enable high performance circuits for future defense needs. The specific goal of her proposed program is to create a feasible path through a bottom-up CMOS compatible approach, for high performance III-V compound semiconductor nanowire-based field effect transistors (FETs) integrable with silicon microelectronics.

The FET would be different than many currently available because it will be made using nanowires with planar geometry grown from the bottom-up, in contrast to fabrication through top-down lithography and etching.

“The bottom-up approach allows the incorporation of planar heterojunctions as well as in-plane doping controls at the nanometer scale. Abrupt junctions are critical to high performance devices” Li said.

Li made an initial device to demonstrate the quality of planar nanowires. In the proposal, she analyzed the device’s potential, as well as how to improve the device’s properties through innovative structural changes.

“This award is really important to me because it validates our idea and approach, and it provides the critical funding to move the research forward,” Li said.

Li will be looking to make faster, better performing transistors, while still being compatible with the existing microelectronics industry. The device’s performance will improve because it will use the high-mobility III-V compound semiconductors instead of silicon. Using a process called “transfer printing,” the III-V semiconductors can be picked up and placed on silicon substrates without losing the original alignment and positioning.

“The reason we can do this and other geometries cannot is because the nanowires we grow are self-aligned in plane, in contrast to the out-of-plane geometries,” Li said. “Anytime a new device is invented, if it requires the existing industry to go out of their way to change their process flows, it most likely will not make it to production easily. The as-grown planar geometry gives us a big advantage in terms of integration because of its compatibility with existing planar processing technology. A special strength of the proposed research is the close connection of materials, device design, and device fabrication.”

Li looks forward to taking on the tasks to realize the potential of this exciting research field. She wishes to acknowledge her students for their hard work and creative contribution; and colleagues and the department for their support.

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

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