Rochester Institute of Technology has received $1 million in state funds to upgrade its Semiconductor and Microsystems Fabrication Laboratory. The update will further advance the university’s research in integrated photonics, quantum information technology, biomedical devices and sensors for smart systems. Improvements will enable the university to expand its key research, teaching, workforce training and entrepreneurial capabilities.

Professors Karl Hirschman, Stefan Preble and Seth Hubbard work in the SMFL developing and fabricating integrated circuits. (Photo by Elizabeth Lamark/RIT)

The 2019-20 renovation project will be launched with a grant from New York state’s Higher Education Capital Matching Grant Program. This first phase of expansion, expected to begin in the 2019-20 academic year, is one part of a broader project to create a versatile, multidisciplinary user facility to meet the evolving needs of academic and industry researchers in the Rochester region and across the state, said Doreen Edwards, dean of RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering.

RIT is one of three local colleges receiving a portion of $2.3 million in matching capital improvement grants. All funding is part of the state’s emphasis on continual improvements to college and university facilities.

The 2019-20 funding will enable RIT to:

  • Expand its research portfolio in key areas related to integrated photonics, quantum information technology, biomedical materials and devices, and sensors for smart (interconnected) systems
  • Expand and improve user services available to researchers and inventors in the region
  • Assist with the incubation of companies who need access to micro- and nano-fabrication facilities
  • Improve the quality of hands-on education in micro- and nano-fabrication technologies at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level
  • Deliver an expanded portfolio of workforce training and talent development models to meet the needs of regional and other New York companies in the industry
  • Incubate new companies and inventors

“This is for much-needed infrastructure upgrades,” said Karl Hirschman, director of the SMFL and a professor in RIT’s electrical and microelectronic engineering department. “This will support expansion of research initiatives within microsystems as well as the growing area of biomedical engineering and their need for microscale capabilities in fabrication and nano-materials. This expansion will improve upon and complement recent investments made through AIM Photonics.”

Wearing special attire, the researchers in the SMFL, also referred to as a clean room, process complex integrated circuits used to power electronic devices from smart phones to smart cars and homes. What sets RIT’s clean room apart is its fabrication capabilities made possible through equipment rarely found in university settings, and the university’s experienced faculty-researchers with the skills to use, teach and further develop the technologies needed today to expand the electronics field.

Originally built in 1985 as part of RIT’s microelectronic engineering program, the lab has expanded considerably and is used by the engineering college’s undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs, by faculty-researchers associated with the Nanopower Labs and Future Photon Initiative as well as industrial partners. With more than 10,000 square feet of clean room space, the SMFL is equipped with micro-fabrication and metrology equipment to support research programs in semiconductor materials and devices, nano-electronics, MEMS devices and sensors, photonic devices and nanomaterials. All these systems are utilized as part of RIT’s role in AIM Photonics, to advance integrated photonics, technology essential to the nation’s manufacturing capabilities in such areas as high-speed data and telecommunications.