What has the ATTRACT seed funding enabled you to do so far?
The ATTRACT funding has allowed us to accelerate our combined research activities and make new and interesting contacts in the industry. A new ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) has been designed, produced and is now being tested. This chip will feature novel electronics to read-out the ultra-high sensitive MEMS accelerometer. By doing this in an ASIC we can better optimise for performance and power consumption.
Our ATTRACT proposal was also selected by a group of honours students as the topic of a CERN summer student research project. They explored the various commercial applications of the technology coming up with very interesting out-of-box ideas. The cherry on the top was that our team of students won the final pitch competition! We also attended the MEMS 2020 conference in Vancouver and established a number of contacts with MEMS foundries and industrial parties.
What challenges have you faced so far?
For our second chip fabrication, we had to move to a new CMOS technology of the X-FAB semiconductor foundry because the CMOS technology used for our first chip became obsolete at AMS. This technology change was a challenge as all components and performances needed to be modelled in new simulation tools. Laboratory tests with the readout chip showed an unforeseen ‘feedthrough’ effect that did not show up in the simulations. Besides, there was a mismatch between some of the transistor models in simulation and the fabricated transistors. Extensive characterisation and modelling are needed to understand and solve these issues in preparation for our next chip submit.
Where does your ATTRACT journey go from here?
On the basis of the results generated so far, we will start work on the next iteration of the next read-out chip and we look forward to the following ASIC submission. This will bring improved performance and additional circuit blocks.
We will also be strengthening our new relationships in academia and the industry. This will lead to development of a consortium for the ATTRACT phase 2 funding round.
Sum up in two sentences the advantages of the ATTRACT Programme over other research funding schemes.
The ATTRACT programme requires little administration so we can focus on our research. It facilitates collaboration between research institute and commercial parties, and has the potential to make a big impact on the long term.