Dr Christopher Broderick, Post-Doctoral Researcher with the Department of Physics at University College Cork (UCC) and Tyndall National Institute, has been awarded the prestigious National University of Ireland (NUI) Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Sciences for his work in the area of theoretical condensed matter physics.
Every two years, the NUI awards a single Fellowship in the sciences to honour a scholar of proven academic distinction and to provide them with support to engage in further research.
Chris will undertake his Fellowship as a member of the Photonics Theory Group (PTG) at UCC under the supervision of Tyndall’s Chief Scientist, Prof. Eoin O'Reilly. The title of his research project is “Lighting the way for silicon photonics: theory and computational design of emerging group-IV semiconductor alloys”.
Since the advent of the electronic computer, society has relied on enhancements in silicon-based microelectronics to underpin technological advances. As Moore’s Law reaches its inevitable conclusion, there is a need to develop new technological platforms to facilitate continued advancements and meet the needs of our increasingly data-hungry society. One key approach is silicon photonics: harnessing the power of light to greatly enhance the performance of conventional devices and deliver new capabilities, by integrating photonic components such as lasers and modulators “on-chip” with traditional microelectronics.
However, the development of silicon photonics is limited by a significant problem: semiconductor materials that are compatible with established microelectronic fabrication processes, such as silicon and germanium, are inherently inefficient emitters and absorbers of light. This inefficiency is fundamentally a result of the quantum-mechanical behaviour of electrons in these materials, as they have “indirect” band gaps. While several of the component technologies required to underpin silicon photonics are becoming established, the development and deployment of this platform is currently limited by the unavailability of suitable silicon-compatible devices such as lasers and Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs).
It has recently been demonstrated that novel group-IV semiconductor alloys – based on silicon and germanium, and containing carbon, tin or lead – provide a potential route to overcome this limitation. While initial work in this area has demonstrated much promise, the understanding of these materials on a fundamental level is still relatively immature. In order to exploit the promise of these new materials for practical applications, a detailed understanding of their properties is required as a basis for the design and optimisation of future devices.
Under this Fellowship, Chris, in collaboration with colleagues in the PTG, will address this problem from the bottom up by developing theoretical models, as well as flexible and scalable simulation tools, to build a quantitative understanding of the properties and performance of this exciting new class of semiconductor materials. This research will provide a foundational guide to materials scientists working in the area, informing the development of new materials and, ultimately, efficient silicon-compatible photonic devices.
“I am grateful to have been awarded this prestigious Fellowship, and am excited to work on this long-standing and technologically relevant problem. Given society’s insatiable hunger for data capture, storage, transmission and analysis, current trends in the microelectronics industry and the rise of the Internet of Things, I feel that this research is particularly interesting from a practical perspective. My strong connection to Tyndall is crucial to the Fellowship, since it allows me to access the Institute’s state of the art supercomputing facilities, and also enables me to maintain close connections to experimental researchers and relevant industry. It is my aim that, by maintaining a strong connection to experimental work, my research will provide meaningful input to inform the development and exploitation of this extremely promising and potentially disruptive family of materials”, explained Chris.