TRIUMF gift sets stage for local micro manufacturing

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

Sophisticated microfabrication equipment donated to UBC by TRIUMF will boost the high-tech manufacturing industry in B.C., says Tom Tiedje, director of UBC's Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory (AMPEL).

The equipment, worth about $1 million, will be used at UBC to make micro-electronic and optical devices such as semiconductor lasers and high speed transistors.

"In B.C. we have a strong software industry and a pretty good systems industry. But people are buying components from other places and then putting systems together here," Tiedje said. "There's little manufacturing capability in B.C. for these components, with most of the manufacturing done in the U.S. or the Far East."

Clean rooms in AMPEL were an important factor in TRIUMF's decision to donate the equipment, Tiedje says. AMPEL provides an ideal environment for the operation of the sensitive equipment which uses a photolithographic process to imprint patterns -- visible only through a microscope -- on silicon or compound semiconductor wafers.

TRIUMF staff will continue to have access to the equipment which will be used primarily by graduate students in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Physics and Astronomy, and Chemistry. Graduate students will be trained to use the equipment by a research engineer and then carry out their processing work themselves. The knowledge they gain is what will help the manufacturing industry, Tiedje says.

"If you want to start a business manufacturing integrated circuits or electronic components, the main difficulty is finding the knowledge and skilled personnel to do it. These people don't develop in a vacuum. People require training, and training requires facilities like this," he says.

Since microfabrication equipment involves a variety of expensive pieces of processing equipment, multiple users are required to justify the capital and operating costs. The AMPEL facility makes this possible by bringing together people from different disciplines with a common interest in microfabrication, Tiedje says.

"The TRIUMF donation is extremely important because it provides us with a complete working facility that would otherwise have taken us many years to put together from several funding sources."