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Night vision view Wright Patterson Air Force Base
IR photodetectors are essential semiconductor devices in night-vision goggles.

Researchers Pursue Novel Materials for IR Night Vision

New semiconductors based on silicon germanium tin (GeSnSi) materials are being pursued for next-generation night vision infrared (IR) detectors.

Advantages in night vision often stem from advances in materials science. Such is the plan of the U.S. Department of Defense; the DoD hopes to harness creative engineering from innovative thought leaders at a leading university as part of a $7.5 million award made to the University of Arkansas via the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI).

The MURI award—given to the school’s Shui-Qing “Fisher” Yu, associate professor of electrical engineering, and Gregory Salamo, distinguished professor of physics—is for the pursuit of improved night-vision infrared (IR) detectors made from new semiconductors based on silicon germanium tin (GeSnSi) materials. Yu will serve as principal investigator and Salamo as co-principal investigator as part of research conducted at the University of Arkansas and various other institutions.

The research grant is being made with the hopes of overcoming the limitations of current photodetectors based on mercury cadmium telluride (HgCdTe) and other semiconductor compounds—limitations both in performance and in the high cost of production processes. Such IR photodetectors are plagued by poor performance across large areas of a semiconductor wafer, resulting in poor production yields. The MURI award, which was made to Yu, Salamo, and a team of researchers from Arizona State University, Dartmouth College, University of Massachusetts-Boston and George Washington University, seeks higher performance and yields from photodetectors fabricated on GeSnSi wafers.

Yu has worked with GeSnSi for more than a decade and has received previous Air Force grants in support of optically pumped lasers on germanium-tin substrates. “This is a significant award—the first MURI with the University of Arkansas as the lead institution,” said Dan Sui, vice-chancellor for research and innovation. “Fisher has dedicated most of his career to an investigation of this powerful material and its potential as a promising new semiconductor. So, I’m happy for him, but I’m also extremely excited that this work is happening here, on our campus. It is yet another demonstration of this university’s contribution to improving systems that make our world better.”

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