Investment in miracle material

September 1, 2000

A university-enterprise partnership has been launched to develop innovative technology based on the "miracle material" gallium nitride.

Gallium nitride has been described as the most important new electronic material since silicon and is used to produce very bright light-emitting diodes and lasers, as well as very high-power transistors that can operate at high temperatures.

A Pounds 500,000 donation of equipment from Thomas Swan Scientific Equipment (TSSEL) to researchers at the University of Cambridge is backed by a grant of almost Pounds 1 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The research programme will be developed by the Cambridge-based company and the university, along with University College London and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Colin Humphreys, of the department of materials science and metallurgy at Cambridge, said: "Light-emitting diodes based on gallium nitride can be used to make light bulbs that last 100 times longer than traditional bulbs and consume only 10 per cent of their energy. If light bulbs are replaced by these LEDs, huge energy savings will result, with big reductions in CO2 emissions from power stations.

"Gallium nitride can also be used to make blue lasers that will write at least four times more information on CDs and optical disks than the red lasers currently used. That means it will be possible to write all of Madonna's melodies - or all of Schubert's symphonies - on a single CD."

The technology could also be used to build powerful transistors, which are used in mobile phone base stations to give greater transmission range, and to create highly accurate surgical lasers.

Paul Hyland, managing director of TSSEL, said that the future for his company and many others depended to a great extent on their ability to establish mutually beneficial partnerships with customers and centres of research excellence such as Cambridge.

"The potential commercial and environmental benefits to be obtained from success in this area are immense and stand to benefit both developed and third world communities alike," he said.

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