MCNC wins DARPA grant for nanotechnology research

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C., Nov. 1, 2004. MCNC Research & Development Institute (MCNC-RDI), a North Carolina-based nonprofit research organization, announced today that it has contracted with Lucent Technologies to provide three-dimensional (3-D) interconnect technology as part of a joint research and development project for the U.S. Department of Defense's Coherent Communications, Imaging and Targeting (CCIT) program.

MCNC-RDI will collaborate on the project with Lucent's Bell Labs R&D division, and the New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium (NJNC), based at and run by Bell Labs.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), the central research and development organization for the Defense Department, established the CCIT program to develop more efficient systems for communications, imaging and targeting applications. Current communications systems use adaptive optics, which have been deemed too heavy to use in advanced mobile platforms.

To address this, MCNC-RDI is joining with Lucent's Bell Labs and the NJNC in the development of light-weight, high-resolution, high-speed microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) using spatial light modulators (SLMs).

This MEMS-based technology will be the basis for a scalable prototype system that can digitally manipulate optical beams of light via micro-mirror arrays. Specifically, the technology is expected to increase communication speeds in the multi-gigabit-per-second range, and will provide aberration-free, three-dimensional imaging.

MCNC-RDI was chosen as a subcontractor by Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs to provide its innovative 3-D interconnect technology for the project. MCNC-RDI's 3-D interconnect technology increases integrated circuit (IC) performance while reducing weight and volume. Devices featuring 3-D interconnect technology demonstrate improved processing speed, less power consumption, lower cost and a smaller footprint.

"MCNC-RDI's expertise in 3-D interconnect technology is critical to the success of this project, as it enables the vertical integration of a MEMS mirror array with the necessary electronics," said Dave Bishop, Ph.D., Lucent's vice president of nanotechnology research, and president, NJ Nanotech Consortium at Bell Labs.

"We look forward to working together with MCNC-RDI to develop new nanotechnologies that will ultimately improve the Department of Defense's communications capabilities."

Throughout its history, MCNC-RDI has been recognized as a pioneer in microelectronics and microfabrication techniques. Research at MCNC-RDI on vertical interconnect methods and proof of concepts has been conducted for over three years. Most recently, MCNC-RDI has demonstrated vertical interconnects with diameters as small as four microns and up to 10:1 aspect ratios.

"Working with Lucent Technologies and DARPA provides a wonderful opportunity for MCNC-RDI to put its research and development capabilities to work for critical military applications," said Ken Williams, Ph.D., vice president of the Materials & Electronics Technologies Division, MCNC-RDI.

"Developing microelectronics technologies for government and defense applications is an area of strength for MCNC. We have been involved with defense-related projects for over 10 years, and we look forward to collaborating with Lucent, Bell Labs and the New Jersey Nanotech Consortium on this Department of Defense endeavor."

The Lucent contract for CCIT Phase II was awarded by DARPA in April 2004 for a total of $13.5 million and is scheduled for completion by March 2006.

While the MEMS technology is being developed for CCIT and other military applications, it may have the potential for commercial applications such as healthcare and astronomy.

MCNC is a private, independent, non-profit corporation established in 1980 to advance technology-led economic development and job creation throughout North Carolina. MCNC-RDI develops new technologies through its own initiatives and as a research partner for businesses and the U.S. government, conducting advanced and applied research across a broad technology spectrum, including microsystems, flexible electronics, sensor development, signal electronics, wireless systems, microfabrication, high-speed secure networks and grid computing.

MCNC companies are located in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park. For more information, see www.mcnc.org.

RTI International has announced its intent to acquire MCNC-RDI's research groups. RTI is a non-profit research organization also located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The acquisition is expected to be completed later this year. Following completion of the acquisition, all research activities referenced in this announcement will continue with RTI International. For more information, see www.rti.org.

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