Turning inspiration into reality

Using nanotechnology equipment in the Stinson-Remick Hall of Engineering, University of Notre Dame professor Gary Bernstein is working to perfect a technology that sounds more like something you’d buy at a Mennonite relief sale than something you’d find at the heart of a groundbreaking technology.

Quilt packaging will be faster, cost less, and use less power and space.

But make no mistake: Quilt packaging, Bernstein’s project, represents a real breakthrough. It promises a new way to connect microchips in electronic devices that will eliminate much of the packaging, resulting in lower costs, as well as greater speed and efficiency.

The company created to commercialize the technology, Indiana Integrated Circuits LLC (IIC), was formed in 2009 and recently completed its first round of outside investment. IIC is one of two ventures resulting directly from Notre Dame’s nanoelectronics research that are taking definite steps toward commercialization.

Top-tier university setting

Bernstein says Quilt Packaging™ is a technology that will allow microchips made of dissimilar materials to be attached like squares in a quilt. Connections between microchips are made by thin metal lines that extend over the edge of each chip. It involves a much more streamlined connection than has previously been available in existing technologies.

The current technologies all involve cumbersome packing that adds significantly to the cost of the final product and creates some communications lag time between chips.

“If it weren’t for Notre Dame’s research initiatives in nanotechnology, we wouldn’t have this company, and we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” says Bernstein, who chose to include Indiana in the company name because he wanted to express his “personal faith in Indiana” as an important location for technological advances.

“This is a top-tier research facility,” says Bernstein’s business partner and company president, Jason Kulick. “Without the Center for Nano Science and Technology at Stinson-Remick, the work we are doing simply would not be possible. The device fabrication clean room means that for one-off and feasibility manufacturing, it’s attractive for much larger companies to work with us.”

IIC’s next step will be to begin working on collaborations with system integrators and original equipment manufacturers to do proof-of-concept work in the Notre Dame Nanofabrication Facility, also located within Stinson-Remick.

“We are in negotiations with several companies and are working out the contract details and partnering arrangements,” Kulick says. “We hope to be in the lab working on a prototype in early 2011.”

‘Seeing’ that which is unseen
 

Carol Tanner and Steven Ruggiero flank a computer screen demonstrating various aspects of their research.

On another part of campus, two Notre Dame physicists are working on a laser transmission spectroscopy tool that will be able to detect the presence of nanoparticles in suspension, as well as determine the type and number of the nanoparticles. The tool can detect particles so tiny and diffuse that they cannot be seen with any existing technology, and it extends to a range many orders of magnitude below what has previously been achieved. No technology in existence can provide the size and shape of such things as viruses in suspension, making the tool truly groundbreaking in its performance.

Researchers Steven Ruggiero and Carol Tanner say that practical applications for this “platform” technology, which they plan to market through a company they’ve dubbed LightSprite, include the analysis of water for safety and purity; the detection of nanoparticles in the environment; medical diagnostics involving the detection of bacteria and viruses; the detection of species-specific DNA; and high-resolution spatial information for pharmaceutical research. A number of basic researchers, nanoparticle analysis companies and scientists in pharma have expressed serious interest in the technology.

“Our goal is to provide an instrument that is portable, sensitive, fast, reliable and easy to commercialize,” Ruggiero says. “Among other benefits, the presence of this technology would allow for the crafting of tighter environmental policies. Such policies become enforceable when it can be proven that the technology exists to perform reliable and accurate tests.”

A high-performance portable prototype of the instrument has just been completed by Rose-Hulman Ventures and will be the basis of a commercializable product, as well as the embodiment of the intellectual property secured by a pending patent.

“Imagine going to the doctor’s office and having him or her be able to tell you the type of bacterium or virus you have,” Tanner says. “You can begin treatment right away, and it’s going to be the right one.”

‘It shows Notre Dame is serious’

The researchers emphasize the significance of Stinson-Remick, the Center for Nano Science and Technology, and the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery as important resources for commercialization, and evidence of the university’s commitment to ground-breaking research.

“The nanocenter serves as a flagship for Notre Dame,” Tanner says. “It signals that the university is serious about commercializing research for real-world applications.”

Publication Date: 
January 2011
Article Type: 
Company Profile